In addition to the Friendship Circle, Addie visits one-on-one with residents in their room to find out their particular interests and suggest other activities based on individual preferences. At Canterbury, there’s something for everyone. She is able to share the list of all the wonderful activities made available through the Life Enrichment Supervisor and workers that help encourage connection.

Every Wednesday afternoon, the sound of singing, chatter and laughter fills Canterbury Court as residents gather for the weekly Friendship Circle at the Chapel.  Lead by new on-site social worker Addie Kuyatah, it’s an important part of everyday life that brings people together in their Canterbury home.

“Music is like food for the soul,” says Addie, who easily strikes up conversations with participants and lights up the room with her bright friendly smile. “Everybody seems to love music, and when the residents hear it they often join in. The benefits of participating are both psychological and physical. It connects the residents and brings a sense of belonging and they come here and have fun!”  

One hour before the session, Addie takes the time to round up people, knocking on doors and reminding residents who might forget.  At the Friendship Circle, residents receive easy to read music booklets, introduce themselves to the group and sing along to the musical accompaniment, all under her gentle guidance.  Addie includes residents in the process of choosing memorable old-time songs for upcoming sessions as they write down their requests.

About 25 residents usually attend the weekly Friendship Circle, including Don Bauer.  Don is 95 years old, has lived in Canterbury Manor for over a decade and enjoys coming over to the Court and mingling with residents from other parts of the building that he might not see otherwise. “It’s interesting to visit with people and hear about their different backgrounds, from banking or teaching and the like,” he says.

Don thoroughly enjoys the interaction and the memories associated with the songs. “It seems like I always have a tune in my head,” he adds.  “As a small boy, I grew up in Toronto and lived in the east end. We had a back garden with a red oak tree. I would go through the garden, climb high up the tree, branch to branch, and that’s when I used to sing, ‘You are My Sunshine’!”

This type of memory recall and interaction for Canterbury residents strengthens their bodies and minds   and helps reduce isolation. While some people transition into socializing easily, others may need more time and that’s where Addie steps in.

“When you are new, you feel like you don’t belong. This goes for everybody -- not just for seniors --when you come into a brand new place.  So I will check in with a new resident and they might say, ‘Don’t worry, things are going fine, I will get involved.’ But when I’m talking to them I do assessments as well.  Body language can tell me if they are doing OK or not. I request a visit and sit down and find out what’s happening, and to find a way if necessary to fix it.” 

“Isolation is really a key problem that occurs for a whole range of different reasons,” explains Megan Strickfaden, Professor in Human Ecology at University of Alberta.  Megan is involved in the new design of Canterbury Lane, where Alzheimer’s and other dementia residents live. “People can become alienated because an object doesn’t work the way they expect it to, or they forget how it works. Isolation also occurs when they’re not connected with loved ones, or even if they aren’t as much a part of a community as they were before.”  

The researcher adds, “With Canterbury what we have is this lovely opportunity where it is already like a small village and we want to emphasize that sense of community and sense of belonging.”

Addie also regularly visits the Alzheimer’s and dementia residents in Canterbury Lane, and usually lines up four or five residents to come down and enjoy the Friendship Circle.

“They might say they don’t know how to sing, but I tell them we have a book and we all sing along and they can just come and listen to the music.”  She adds, “Sometimes they get sidetracked a little, but you just need to bring them back in. Some of them definitely remember the songs too. The whole idea is to be included.”

This act of inclusion is a simple but crucial element for decreasing isolation, a common issue for seniors.  “Even though a resident may be living with many other people, they can still be lonely,” notes Christene Gordon, Provincial Lead, Client & Services Programs at the Alzheimer’s Society of Alberta & NWT.   January is Alzheimer’s Awareness month, and with 47,000 Albertans who have a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia, the organization’s focus is on reducing stigma of the illness.   

Many people may feel uncomfortable or don’t know how to engage with loved ones with the disease, and social workers such as Addie make a big difference. “With a cognitive impairment it can be even more difficult to connect,” says Christene. “It is extremely important to have a facilitator like a social worker to make an introduction and give extra cueing they can take advantage of.”  She adds, “No matter where one is on the cognitive scale, it is important to ask what is their social isolation and where are they getting their social needs met?”

Throughout her social worker role, Addie acts as a facilitator, mediator and educator.  She builds relationships with residents and families, helps co-ordinate legal documents and shares services they might need as they navigate through the challenges and adjustments of starting a new life in a new home at Canterbury.

Addie went back to school in mid-life and graduated with a degree in Social Work from Grant MacEwan.  As a student she completed her practicum work at Canterbury. She loved it so much, she jumped at the chance to come back.

 “Staff in care homes are key,” acknowledges Christene.  “They are the people who take the extra two seconds to put their hand on your back and say, ‘So good to see you,’ and engage people all the time – not just for twenty minutes of activity and then no one speaks to them the rest of the day.”  She adds, “Its part poetry & part science. It’s changing up how you get people to come out, how to engage them, and be a good host in their environment.”