MIDDLESEX, CT—Staring at the rec-room clock Monday, Herman Oster and 23 of his fellow Eldercare Nursing Home residents waited for the day's agonizing "Funtime" to finally end.
"Not too much longer now," said Oster, 83, midway through the two-hour descent into tedium. "After we throw the big ball back and forth, there's usually one more song, and then it's over at last."
Listed on the Eldercare Events Calendar as "Funtime with Judy," the weekly event is hosted by Judy Lyon, one of Eldercare's two recreational therapists.
"On other days, we have scheduled events like bingo or bridge or movie time," the 34-year-old Lyon said. "But on Tuesdays, I like to mix it up a little and surprise the residents. During Funtime, anything goes!"
Previous Funtime activities have included leatherworking, macrame, and waving brightly colored flags.
"I always plan something that involves everyone," said Lyon, who in 1995 received her master's degree in recreational therapy from Central Connecticut State University. "I try to provide the residents with socialization opportunities that will also improve motor function, increase relaxation, and build awareness skills."
According to Oster, the most painful Funtime activity is "Remember When?," in which Lyon asks residents questions about their lives before entering the nursing home.
"Sometimes, Judy asks us to talk about our kids, and that always hurts, because I hardly ever see them," Oster said. "I really don't like talking about it in front of the group."
John Edwards, 91, is similarly uncomfortable with "Remember When?"
"One time, Judy asked me what my first car was," Edwards said. "I had no idea. I just couldn't remember. I was so embarrassed."
Despite the depressing, non-fun nature of Funtime, many residents still feel compelled to attend.
"Whenever I see Judy in the hall, she asks if I'm going to Funtime this week," said Doris Heckel, 80. "She's so smiley, I feel bad saying no."
"If I don't go, Judy always asks me where I was," Heckel continued. "I can get away with skipping every third time or so, but if I miss two in a row, she really lets me have it."
Some residents said they attend because of the availability of food and beverages.
"The meals here are worse than the K-rations I had to choke down during the Big One, but they make up for it during Funtime by rolling out cake and coffee," said Sam Cropper, 84. "A nice piece of chocolate bundt helps ease the pain of Judy's interminable sing-alongs."
Cropper, who spends most days in his room reading the newspaper and writing letters to long-deceased friends, said he appreciates the attention paid to residents by Lyon, despite the unbearable nature of the activities she plans.
"Most of us are still adjusting to not being able to get around like we used to, so it can get pretty lonely here at Eldercare," Cropper said. "It's nice to have someone to talk to, even if it's about something dumb like what kind of flower we'd like to be."
Added Cropper: "There are many things I'd like to see and do, but since my stroke, I just haven't had the energy. Max [Franklin] has been the same way ever since he broke his hip. I guess fear of loneliness is what drives most of us to endure the distraction of Funtime."