By Steve Gardner | December 17, 2020
COVID-19 has seen many activities in care homes grind to a halt, as outings have had to be cancelled and performances can’t take place.
Here, Steve Gardner, Wellbeing Director at Oomph! Wellness, looks at why activities should remain a priority and what the organization is doing to support care providers.
At the risk of sounding a bit full of myself, I’ve won a couple of trophies for ballroom dancing. Nothing major, but I’m proud of it.
I don’t mention it to show off, rather that when I’ve been asked to present to clients, colleagues or peers, I like to start by showing them a picture of my wife and daughter – yes, them first – and then one of me mid-waltz, and a trophy. I feel like it’s a great way to break down barriers and – particularly as a personal trainer with a Northern accent who you might not imagine decked up in sequins – to show that I am an individual with passions and a life, not just a job title.
It’s something I try to instil in all the care home staff that we work with – the need for them to understand the individuality and motivations of older adults, rather than treating them as ‘just another resident’. Of course, that’s been difficult for care workers during this pandemic. Really difficult indeed.
Making it meaningful
Activities in care homes aren’t just a bit of fun or a ‘nice extra’ to provide, they’re an integral part of supporting wellbeing and health. Regular activity for older adults is essential for their physical, social and mental health, yet we know from University College London research that daytime activities are an unmet need for 76% of care home residents with dementia. Further work from the Association of Dementia Studies has found that care home residents on average spend only two minutes a day participating in meaningful social interaction.
But activities can only be successful if they are meaningful. And for an activity to be meaningful, it must, to some degree, be tailored to the needs and interests of individual care home residents. The MyTimes newspaper that can be personalised can start some lovely conversations, but there are a lot more ways to help care home staff to step into their residents’ shoes. An eye-opening recent course we ran used drama, specifically improvisation skills, to help us understand the experiences of people living with dementia.
Finding and putting on meaningful activities is even more important at the moment, with restricted visiting and higher levels of stress. A good place to start when running an activities training session with care home staff may be asking, ‘Why are we running activities?’. This often starts a discussion about outcomes such as preventing falls, increasing mental engagement and so on, which can be a great start for coming up with ideas
Activities during a pandemic
We have all needed to evaluate how we keep the show on the road since the pandemic struck. This has been especially true for us, given that our usual delivery model involves taking residents on outings and training care home staff to deliver exercise classes and activities.
We decided to use the first lockdown to develop a digital service to support homes in continuing to provide activities. We, like many others, were conscious that an even greater number of care home residents would be feeling somewhat isolated, especially if they were lacking their regular activities and classes due to staffing challenges. Plenty of social contact is essential for physical and mental health.
Our first response was to start creating materials to deploy remotely. This included activity plans for care homes, which, in many cases, were personalised for residents’ individual needs. These supported staff who were able to get into the homes.
This taught us quite a few lessons – in particular around the need to ensure materials could be accessed on whatever technology was available, as this can often be limited in care homes. We were also reminded that some computers won’t necessarily have the right speakers to broadcast proper sound, and that printers might not print in colour. We got around these obstacles by making sure materials were as concise and simple as possible and making them user-friendly for time-pressed staff.
As these resources grew in number, we spoke to more organisations about activities we could design. This included small organisations providing music-based activities, or Lingo Flamingo, which provides dementia-friendly language lessons for older people. We also spoke to national governing bodies for various sports – the England and Wales Cricket Board, Volleyball England and others – as well as Care England.
The end result is Oomph! On Demand, which we describe as a Netflix-style service. It includes, amongst other things, drama, history, drone tours of Scotland and horticulture activities – there’s a real variety, and this is key to ensuring it meets the interests of as wide a group of care home residents as possible. We’re constantly evolving the content available based on the feedback of older adults and our web analytics.
There’s so much more we want to add, and like any good service, it will never be finished. It’s going to be a continuous evolution, but one thing will remain consistent – our commitment to helping care home staff understand individual residents’ needs and motivations.
Steve Gardner is Wellbeing Director at Oomph! Wellness and a qualified personal trainer.