LTC Residents upon the Floor? Benefits of a New Exercise Class at University Gates

Karen Poveda admits she encountered a fair bit of skepticism when she first proposed the idea of a “floor class” exercise program for the residents she supports in The Village at University Gates. A lot of time and effort goes into preventing long-term care residents from ending up on the floor, after all, and here she was suggesting the team intentionally place them there.  

LTC residents working on floor exercise in the Gym in the Village at University Gates.
Residents at University Gates are gaining new strength
thanks to a new Floor Class through the Program for Active Living.

Since introducing the program in late 2019, however, she’s seen a great deal of success and the fear of the impact of falls is slowly being replaced with a sense that if a resident does lose their balance and find the floor, they have the strength and perhaps comfort to know they can manage there safely.

The idea was first fostered more than a year before being implemented. As in many long-term care homes, it’s common at University Gates to find specialized mats lining floors in the rooms of residents considered at risk of falling. These mats help reduce injury in the event that a fall does occur by absorbing some of the impact.

To maintain maximum effectiveness, however, these mats are replaced on a regular basis and Karen, as the Village exercise therapist, wanted to find a way to make use of the old mats instead of simply discarding them.

Karen says the exercises are tailored to meet the abilities of each resident and all safety precautions are considered at the beginning and end of the program. Once the residents are safely upon the mats lining the floor of the gym, the class begins – picture a sort of blend of yoga and low-impact pilates.

“People who are in a wheelchair don’t often get the chance to really lay out throughout the day,” Karen says, yet there is a lot of physical core benefit to stretching out safely upon the floor. Once there, residents may do gentle arm curls with a foam pool noodle, for example, or they may stretch to reach a passing exercise therapist with a whack of the foam. “There’s a lot of laughter,” says Kim Peckett, a kinesiology student from the University of Waterloo who is working through her placement in The Village.

But beyond the laughter, residents are gaining strength – even those whose limited mobility means a mechanical lift is required to safely transfer them from bed to chair or, in the case of the class, from chair to floor. “You need to engage that core strength for these transfers,” Kim says, “and through the different exercises you are working the upper and lower abs.”

Olivia Tupling was a kinesiology student who helped launched the class, and she says there are many benefits, from the small class size “where each resident feels that they are able to get any help that they may need at any time,” to the fact that it helps residents grow more comfortable with the idea of being upon the floor.

“One of the main reasons that residents say they don’t want to participate in certain exercises is because they are afraid to fall,” Olivia says. “Being on the floor in a safe and fun environment will show residents that falling doesn’t need to be a terrible, negative experience and they can continue to push themselves to go outside of their comfort zone.”

Barb Fowke is one of the residents who has been making steady progress, thanks in part to the floor class, and the entire team is proud of and inspired by Barb’s continual progress.

“The hardest part about exercise is starting,” Barb says, “but you have to push through.”

Karen says Barb’s example is worth following and she’s grateful her fellow team members at The Village were willing to give an unorthodox idea a try, and they’ll continue to monitor the progress of Barb and all the residents as the floor class continues on.

Watch for an upcoming story on Barb’s success, which she says is thanks to a full-team approach to care and support.