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Not-for-Profit Report

October 1, 2006
by root
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A collaboration of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging and Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management
BY MICHAEL PELTIER, ASSISTANT EDITOR Serving an ace with restorative volleyball When residents at Sunnyside Nursing Home in Sarasota, Florida, became bored playing basketball as a restorative activity-they tossed a ball into a milk crate-they asked staff if they could do something else. Staff were challenged to develop a program that would improve residents' function yet also be enjoyable. They initiated a new activity-restorative volleyball-using only a beach ball, a net, and an open space, but it has had a "smashing" effect on residents, as well as staff.

Winning feels good at any age. A resident celebrates a score.

Sunnyside Nursing Home, a 60-bed facility that opened in 1968, is part of Sunnyside Village Retirement Community. Located on 33 acres in Sarasota County, the facility is sponsored by seven Mennonite churches. Out of 700 Florida nursing homes, Sunnyside is one of only 15 to be awarded the Gold Seal Award by the Governor's Panel on Excellence in Long-Term Care, and the organization received AAHSA's 2005 Excellence in the Workplace Award.

The staff at Sunnyside are dedicated to their residents. CNAs Kathy Martineau, Kathy "KC" Cole, and Hattie Wyatt have been instrumental in making restorative volleyball a beneficial and fun game for residents, staff, and families. Martineau has been with Sunnyside for 26 years, Cole for 20 years, and Wyatt for 7 years. Diane Marcello is in her eighth year as administrator, and she was previously the rehab director for four years.

Two years ago, Sunnyside was tasked with developing a new restorative program. Basketball had been fun for a while, but it didn't have a lasting appeal. "Hattie and the restorative nurse came up with the idea that if they put a four-foot net up and they got some beach balls, the residents would be able to get some arm extension to bat the ball over the net, and have a good time," Marcello says. To play restorative volleyball, all players must be seated. "Some residents are in wheelchairs, and the ones who do walk sit in chairs. No one's allowed to stand up while they play-even the staff have to sit in chairs," Cole explains. And while players aren't allowed to use their legs, they don't have to use their arms, either. "We have one resident who uses his head to get the ball over the net at times," she adds.

Staff have been known to be lenient with the rules, which they sometimes make up as they play. "We have one resident who likes to use her feet every now and then, and any way she can get the ball over the net she will," Marcello says. "So we close our eyes to that." Certain rules, though, are never broken. "Residents really do earn their points," Wyatt notes. "We have beaten them, and they have beaten us on many occasions. They fight hard for their wins."

Restorative volleyball uses the same scoring system as traditional volleyball, but the number of participants can vary-the game can accommodate as many as 14 people playing on one team at a time. Players compete in two arenas: a TV room and a large, multipurpose room that doubles as a chapel and a meeting room. Daily practices and restorative programs are held in the TV room after clearing out chairs, and games against staff or family members are played in the larger venue.

The residents' team name, the Golden Oldies, is emblazoned on shirts they wear during matches. The Golden Oldies have proven to be a formidable opponent to the Sunnyside Staffers, but no matter who wins, the competition remains friendly. "The staff have fun and the residents have fun-they love to play volleyball," Martineau says. And residents who don't play contribute by cheering on the Golden Oldies.

Staff and residents face off for a lively (and restorative) game of volleyball.

Last year, residents participated in the Senior Olympics for the first time. That competition has inspired a possible challenge: a match against another facility that plays a version of restorative volleyball. "Because it is such a thrill when they play against the staff, I think it would be even more thrilling if they could play against another nursing home," Marcello suggests.

Examples of restorative volleyball's benefits abound. "You'd be amazed when you have exercise class and you tell residents to 'raise your arms' how far they go up. But when it comes to volleyball, their arms are all the way up in the air," Martineau says. Restorative volleyball has also helped foster communication among residents, a healthy competitive spirit, and a desire to engage in exercise more than four days a week. "It has brought a lot of them out of their shells. The camaraderie and the morale have been lifted," Wyatt notes.

Once, a resident's daughter came to take her father out but, with an important game coming up, he had other plans. "He said he was not leaving the facility because there was a tournament against the staff coming up. If she wanted to see him, she was just going to have to stay and watch while he practiced," Marcello says. Another resident who didn't walk much started walking more because of restorative volleyball. "He felt it was necessary to win the game against the staff, so he exercised more," Wyatt explains. She likens restorative volleyball's effect on residents to "Kick the Can," an episode of The Twilight Zone in which older adults transform into children as they play the game kick the can.