Helping seniors has always been Tonari Gumi’s main mission, but since July 2014 when Tonari Gumi received a federal government grant under its New Horizons for Seniors program, Tonari Gumi’s involvement with helping seniors who are frail, handicapped or suffering from early stages of dementia has increased significantly. We could have described it as having increased by “leaps and bounds”, but that seemed inconsistent with the fact that we are helping seniors who need activities that are geared to their specific conditions, which in most cases requires activities that go more slowly and very few of them can “bound” anywhere.
However, while their bodies may require them to move more slowly and deliberately, it doesn’t mean that their minds can’t “leap” to new levels. Even when some are experiencing early stages of dementia, they are still interested in “stretching” their abilities. This has meant that we need a lot more volunteers to assist our seniors in the program. At the same time, the program has provided more opportunities for our volunteers to relate more closely with our seniors and to help them more individually. The key to Tonari Gumi’s version of the “Iki Iki” (or lively, lively) program is the tailoring of the program to meet the individual needs of each of the participants. In so doing, we are able to shed light on each participant’s abilities and help them to try more things—just like a lighthouse helps ships to move forward, even when the way is obscured by fog and storms. In our case, the way may be made more difficult due to physical weaknesses or mental cloudiness as a result of dementia. By engaging in both physical exercise and social inter-action, the participating seniors are able to enhance the quality of their life and possibly delay the on-set of more serious problems from dementia.
The other positive aspect of the Lighthouse “Iki Iki” Program is that it lasts for five hours twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays, with a wholesome Japanese-style lunch included. This then provides a period of respite for caregivers, who can be assured that their seniors are being well looked after during this period.
Originally, Tonari Gumi’s Lighthouse “Iki Iki” started with four seniors, one staff member and three volunteers, meeting only on Wednesdays. Today, that one staff member is working with nearly a dozen volunteers and some 21 participating seniors. The program now runs twice a week, on both Mondays and Wednesdays, enabling more seniors to become involved. Tonari Gumi’s program also works in conjunction with the Iki Iki programs being held at Nikkei Place in Burnaby and the Steveston Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. However, Tonari Gumi’s program is now the largest with the most participants. We’re excited that we are able to extend a helping hand to so many seniors who need a more relaxed program.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, please contact Tonari Gumi at 604-687-2172 or e-mail at SLP@dev.tonarigumi.ca. Caregivers and individuals interested in becoming involved in Tonari Gumi’s Lighthouse “Iki Iki” Program should contact Masako Arima at Tonari Gumi for more information.