The Technical Tunes That Get Aged Nigerians Moving and Dancing Digitally

In the living room of the Regina Mundi nursing home in Lagos, Baba Raphael, 70, gets up from his chair and puts on a virtual reality headset. For nine minutes, Raphaël dances to the folk sounds of his favorite singer, the late Ayinla Omowura, while watching a music video.

“Do you like it?” one of the staff asks Raphael. He doesn’t answer, oblivious as he sings.

For more than a year, art teacher Kunle Adewale has visited four nursing homes in the Nigerian city, taking virtual reality sets and tablets for often isolated residents, providing doses of therapeutic entertainment.

With headsets, people can immerse themselves in songs, dance or exercise sessions, and even nature preserves. Some make digital art on the tablets, create illustrations or retouch photographs.

“It’s about giving them joy, that’s the biggest thing about it that makes me happy,” says Adewale. “It brings something different to the day, to their routine. They love music and experience it in a more powerful way. Some love the dance sessions. For some, we realized they wanted something more calming, so we uploaded some sound therapy content to make them feel more at peace. What’s amazing is that there are so many ways to use it and experience it.

Art teacher Kunle Adewale, centre, began researching social therapies for the elderly after his mother-in-law lost her memory following a stroke.
Art teacher Kunle Adewale, centre, began researching social therapies for the elderly after his mother-in-law lost her memory following a stroke. Photograph: Temilade Adelaja/Reuters

Adewale, 40, was teaching at a primary school when his mother, father and stepmother all died within four years. “My mother-in-law had a stroke, then she lost her memory. She couldn’t recognize us anymore, so we tried to make her happy in different ways, like singing songs. His condition prompted him to look into memory loss and ‘social therapies’, interactive ways to engage people with mental health issues.

“One of the things that we kids have in our culture is the belief that ‘my parents did all these things for me, so when it’s time, I’ll pay it back.’ It’s our culture to take care of our parents, but mine are gone, so I’m now passing it on to others,” he says.

Few residents of the house receive family visits, making virtual reality sessions a valuable form of interaction and activity.
Few residents of the house receive family visits, making virtual reality sessions a valuable form of interaction and activity. Photography: Kunle Adewale

In Regina Mundi, Baba Festus, who has Down syndrome, performs an eclectic mix of moves during a dance class.

Mama Ibadan, a retired teacher, has developed a flair for digital art; one of his pieces is exhibited in the living room. Another work has just been sold.

From her wheelchair, Mama Bolanle moves her head to the rhythm of the music, a rare sign of activity for a woman who barely speaks. Staff say she hasn’t seen her family in years. “They abandoned her and hardly visited her afterwards,” one said. “At some point we found out that her daughter had moved to the United States without telling us or her mother.”

Only three residents receive family visits, according to the director of Regina Muni, Catholic nun Anthonia Adebowale. “The biggest problem they face is loneliness. Often their families bring them here and abandon them. You can see how it affects them, they become very withdrawn. We do our best to support and encourage them, and this program also helps them become more active and engaged.”

Nursing homes are frowned upon in Nigeria, says Adebowale, due to the cultural emphasis on the family caring for their elderly. “Your children are like your inheritance, so people think if you have children, why should you be left alone in a house somewhere? It’s a sensitive issue. »

This is changing among young people, a reality difficult to accept for the older generation. “The transition is very difficult for them. We try to advise family members to come and see them, not just to abandon them here, but it often happens that way.

The hum of fans and generators rumbles through the house where days follow a fixed routine around meals and prayers. Acts of kindness bring welcome interruptions. Supporters sometimes send fabrics to make new clothes for residents, or sponsor special meals, or come to visit like Kunle Adewale. “I am convinced that these homes should not be a place where people feel alone or left behind. We should strive to find ways to help them become more active places where they can interact socially and have dignity.

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