IIn the living room of Regina Mundi’s nursing home in Lagos, 70-year-old Papa Raphael gets down from his chair and wears a virtual reality headset. For nine minutes, Raphael dances to folk tunes by his late favorite singer Ainla Omura while watching a music video.
“Do you enjoy it?” A staff member asks Raphael. He doesn’t answer, ignorant as he sings.
For more than a year, art teacher Conley Adewal has been visiting four nursing homes in the Nigerian city, taking sets and tablet PCs from often isolated residents and providing doses of therapeutic entertainment.
By using headphones, people can immerse themselves in songs, dance or exercise sessions and even nature reserves. Some do digital art on tablets, create illustrations, or edit photos.
“It’s about making them happy, and that’s the biggest thing that makes me happy,” Adewale says. “It brings something different to the day, to her routine. They just love the music and experience it in a more powerful way. Some love the dance sessions. For some, we found they wanted something more calming, so we downloaded the sound therapy content to make them feel more calm. The amazing thing is That there are many ways to use it and experience it.”
Adewali, 40, was attending an elementary school when his mother, father and stepmother all died within four years. “My stepmother had a stroke, then lost her memory. She couldn’t recognize us anymore, so we tried different ways to make her happy, like singing songs.” Her condition led him to explore amnesia and “social therapy,” which are interactive ways to engage people with mental illness.
“One of the things we enjoy as children in our culture is the belief that ‘my parents did all these things for me, so I’ll pay it when the time comes.’ This is our culture of looking after our parents, but my culture is gone, so now I’m passing it on to others,” as Says.
In Regina Mundi, Baba Festus, who has Down syndrome, performs an eclectic mix of movements during dance class.
Mama Ibadan, a retired teacher, has developed a penchant for digital art. One of her pieces is on display in the living room. Another business was recently sold.
From her wheelchair, Mama Polan nodded to the music, a rare sign of the activism of a woman who rarely speaks. Staff say she hasn’t seen her family in years. One said, “They took it down and rarely visited after that.” “We eventually found out that her daughter had moved to the United States without telling us or her mother.”
According to Regina Money’s director, Catholic nun Antonia Adewale, only three residents receive family visits. The biggest problem they face is loneliness. Their families often bring them here and abandon them. You can see how it affects them, they become very withdrawn. We do our best to support and encourage them and this program also helps them become more active and engaged. “
Adewale says nursing homes are causing resentment in Nigeria due to the cultural focus on family care for the elderly. “Your children are like your inheritance, so people feel that if you have children, why would they be left alone in a house anywhere? It is a sensitive topic.”
This is changing among the young, and it is a reality that is difficult for the older generation to accept. “Moving is very difficult for them. We try to advise family members to come to them and not just leave them here, but it often happens.”
The sound of fans and generators reverberates throughout the house, as the days follow a set rhythm around meal times and prayers. Kind acts bring welcome interruptions. Well-wishers sometimes send cloth to make new clothes for residents, sponsor special meals, or come to visit like Kunle Adewale. I firmly believe that these homes should not be places where people feel alone or left behind. We must strive to find ways to help them become more active places where they can interact socially and have dignity.”
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