Creative Engagement Specialist Maurie Voisey-Barlin has pioneered an innovative way to stay connected with aged care residents in the Hunter during Covid-19 visitor restrictions.
Dubbed "Window Therapy", Mr Voisey-Barlin employs theatre and therapeutic techniques to engage elders through the window and bring much-needed fun, joy and humour.
"I use 'chalk style' whiteboard markers to draw faces and messages, I play out physical comedy routines, we do charades, guessing games and I'll converse using pen and paper," Mr Voisey-Barlin said. "I'll even jump on the phone and talk to them through the glass.
"The reactions are joyous, playful and cheeky but it's more than just performing through a window, it's about spontaneity and provoking responses that validate the individual."
Window Therapy premiered at Whiddon Largs.
"Before Covid struck, I was working across five sites doing over 70 one-on-one interactions as part of programs I conducted with my elders to foster well-being and mental health," he said.
"When the lockdown hit, I, like many other creatives, wasn't allowed on site anymore and I despaired about the mental health of not only the residents, but their families and the aged care staff dealing with the mental wellbeing of their residents."
While waving through a window to his kids who were playing outside at home one afternoon, it came to him.
"I thought, if I can't go inside, why don't I attempt to interact with people from the outside, through the window," Mr Voisey-Barlin said.
He contacted Suzie Madden, site director at Whiddon Aged Care at Largs, and described his idea.
"She said 'gold, get out here and give it a go,'" Mr Voisey-Barlin recounted. "Thus Window Therapy was born."
The session was so well received, Mr Voisey-Barlin is now working two days a week at Largs, as well as at Whiddon Belmont, with Amaroo, Merton Living and Summitcare Wallsend also getting on board.
"Maurie visits Whiddon Largs every week and provides a much-loved creative engagement and play program for our residents," Whiddon's Executive General Manager, Karn Nelson said. "We were worried about how not having this program would make the residents feel. It's an important part of their week. So we were delighted to work with Maurie on this adaptation when he came up with the idea of working through the window."
Mr Voisey-Barlin believes there is potential to roll out Window Therapy beyond the Hunter, linking with creative performers to bring joy to the residents.
"In the absence of a vaccine, it could be some time before this pandemic lockdown is over as far as aged care goes," he said.
"There is a national plan to look after the health of aged care residents to keep them safe from Covid-19, but what's the plan for their psychosocial health?
"Thousands of creatives have also seen their work dry up due to restrictions on gatherings - the Clown Doctors, for instance, who have been locked out of hospitals.
"I want to bring artists and performers like this and the aged care sector together to help combat the isolation, loneliness and depression which was already a challenge before Covid, but which has been so heavily intensified by the lockdown."
Mr Voisey-Barlin's favourite quote states that every time an elder dies a library burns down. "We need to keep these libraries open for as long as we can."