LANSING, Mich. –
Michigan Veteran Homes (MVH) offer veterans and eligible dependents, a home-like environment that celebrates camaraderie, provides peace of mind and offers easy access to extraordinary skilled nursing care.
And with communities in Chesterfield Township, Grand Rapids and Marquette, each home employs an extensive staff of physicians, nurses, social workers, dietitians and recreational therapists to ensure members get the care they need while living as independently as possible.
While traditional elements of short-term and long-term care exist, such as behavioral, occupational, physical and group therapy, MVH also offers alternative therapies through the arts.
“We offer programs that help maintain or improve psychosocial well-being,” said Becky Smit, manager of the activity department and volunteer services at Michigan Veteran Homes at Grand Rapids. “Through art, wood shop, music and horticultural therapy, our members receive approximately 70 arts-related therapy treatments weekly.”
Through arts therapy, MVH focuses on the emotional, psychological and social well-being of the members. One therapy offered is painting.
“We offer an art program, which is more person-centered and focused on the individual,” said Smit.
Creative art therapies are non-invasive, non-medication-based and may reduce healthcare costs. Their impact can also be seen in improvements to cognitive, memory and motor functions.
“For some, it’s incentive therapy as this gets them out of their rooms to explore new activities,” said Vickie Reynolds, oil painting instructor for Michigan Veteran Homes at Grand Rapids. “While there are elements of physical therapy involved, painting does improve their range of motion, there are emotional healing benefits as well.”
The program is designed for experienced and novice painters and members can learn basic painting skills — all while improving their cognitive skills.
“We have members who have no background in painting at all and others who have painted previously,” said Reynolds. “Members learn to mix their own colors, do their own sketching and make critical decisions about their paintings.”
The home also has programs that are more individually based.
“Woodshop is another program we offer that focuses on the member rather than on a group,” said Smit. “Members who attend can work on projects that favor their previous experience in woodworking or we can teach new techniques. This therapy improves motor skills and builds strength and balance.”
“It also improves communication skills, can help with emotions such as grief or anger and can help reduce depression and anxiety,” she said.
Another alternative therapy offered is music which reaches about 70 members each week. Members who listen to live music have seen long-term benefits as well.
“The home has a music therapist who comes here once a week and works in all of our neighborhoods throughout the home,” said Smit. “We offer both group and individual-focused sessions and have found that music helps improve communication, promotes wellness and can enhance memory.”
Members also have opportunities to directly engage with gardening and horticulture.
“We provide an opportunity for members, using gardening and plant-based activities, to reduce stress and enhance social skills,” said Betsy Brown, a registered horticultural therapist for the home. “The group activities are meaningful and promote improvements to self-esteem while reducing boredom.”
“The activities also encourage risk taking and keeping an open mind and engaging with plants can foster curiosity, stretch the memory and encourage creativity,” she said.
Plant therapy can also help members recognize the changing seasons and trigger memories from early childhood.
“During a recent session, members were able to make a holiday snack — fresh cranberry relish,” said Brown. “As we were looking at the cranberries, this triggered a memory for one of the members who is 102, he reflected on when he used to pick berries as a kid.”
During weekly visits, therapy sessions are offered twice a day in hopes of reaching as many members as possible.
“We have group sessions in the morning and individual sessions in the afternoon,” said Brown, who has been a therapist with the home since 2000. “Typically, we have approximately ten members join us for the group session.”
While the alternative art therapies have been hugely successful in improving quality of life for the members, the home offers a variety of programs that contribute to life enrichment.
“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we attended numerous social events across our local community and planned many off-site excursions,” said Smit. “We would go to baseball games, concerts and fish fries.”
“It’s more challenging now but we are offering what we can while keeping the members safe, which is our main priority,” she said.