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Engagement, activity and social distancing

Hilary Woodhead from National Activity Providers Association shares ways that lockdown and isolation activities can support wellness.

The emotional and physical wellbeing of those with care and support needs and those who care for them must be our absolute priority at this time.

Making the decision to apply social distancing was not an easy one for care homes, not least because physical visits from family members had to be restricted, but also because it might have involved restricting people’s movement around the home.
This has created challenges for resident engagement and inclusion. There is significant risk of loneliness and distress and all staff across the setting must therefore ensure that residents are engaged, encouraged and safe and that emotional wellbeing is prioritised alongside physical wellbeing.

Enabling wellbeing

Having something to do can make people feel useful and valued. Simple things like talking, laughing, singing and just being together can help improve wellbeing and reduce loneliness.

Here are some ideas that could be useful for ensuring activity is embedded in the support your organisation offers:

  • Use existing care and support plans to develop individual engagement plans for each resident in your care.
  • Include opportunities for activities over a 24-hour period. These should not depend on the presence of a member of staff to initiate engagement.
  • Keep plans in each residents’ room for easy access by all staff members (make sure these do not share sensitive information).
  • Identify a staff member to be responsible for maintaining contact between residents and their loved ones.
  • Encourage and enable family contact through the means of technology if you can’t offer outdoor, socially distant meetings safely.
  • Offer support and encouragement through one-to-one interaction with residents, in accordance with the required COVID-19 restrictions. Remember, the provision of activity is not the sole responsibility of one person; the whole home can be fully involved in an engagement-based model of care.
  • Discard or sanitise activity supplies according to the care home’s infection control policy.
    Ensure items are not shared between residents.
  • Organise the necessary supplies for each residents’ room to promote engagement and activity.

Suggestions for activities

As discussed, for many, keeping in touch with relatives is vital. As soon as it is safe to do so, homes can now invite family members to visit in the garden. Until then, ask relatives to send in photos of family and friends, from days gone by or more recent. You can use these to create a photo album, frame photos or make a collage together. Greetings can be recorded either by or for family, or you can help with letter writing. You could also help to write or record an autobiography or diary, or help to keep in touch with pen pals.

Reading together can also be a fun pastime. As well as novels and poetry, think about reading newspapers aloud to keep people in touch with current affairs (don’t skip any astrology sections which can make a good discussion topic). Read letters from family and friends, or religious or inspirational texts if that is appropriate.

Some residents might be comforted by helping with daily tasks in the home and might be finding it difficult if they’re not able to do this at the moment. You could look at dusting their bedroom together, shining shoes, creating a toolbox, button box or sewing basket that can then be organised or planting and taking care of plants in the bedroom together. You could also organise drawers and wardrobes.

For those who find music entertaining or even relaxing, you could sing together (nursery rhymes can be comforting), use a tablet for karaoke or talk about your favourite kinds of music. If any care workers play an instrument, you could organise a concert, or you could use small rhythm instruments to make your own music with a resident.

Arts and crafts is usually a very popular activity and this doesn’t need to stop if residents are isolated. Winding wool is calming for many, and drawing and painting, writing a journal, stories or poetry, and creating memory or ‘joy’ boxes can all still be done. Card-making can be done in advance of holidays such as Christmas, and you can draw portraits of each other or create personalised decorations. You could even try making potpourri and placing it around the room.

Other activities could include playing games, like word games, noughts and crosses or charades or playing along with TV gameshows, looking through catalogues, bird watching from the window, watching TV, clips on YouTube or soaps together, an online shopping spree, or doing a seated physical activity. For those who might be less able to engage, you could do a guided meditation, have a pamper session, combing hair, applying perfume, offering a hand massage with aromatherapy oils or doing a manicure, you could touch different fabrics or smell different scents together, or take paintings down from other areas of the home and look at them together.

We have also been asked about hall and doorway activities and many of our members have shared the following ideas:

  • Any type of exercise – yoga, tai chi, noodles, scarf, stretchy band exercise.
  • Joke hour – everyone takes turns telling prepared and printed jokes.
  • Remote control cars or devices in and out of the rooms (if appropriate).
  • Alexa/Dot: use for music, trivia, quiz.
  • Singing between staff and residents.
  • Worship via TV, radio, livestream or recorded, Prayer CDs.
  • Bread machine for aroma and then snacking.
  • Hallway choir.
  • Doorway bingo.
  • Doorway football.

Working together

There are more activity ideas on the NAPA website where you can access free resources to download, full of ideas of things to do. You can also contact the NAPA Helpline on 0207 078 9375 or email for free support and information.

Despite the lockdown, we can all do our part to ensure that people stay emotionally, mentally and physically engaged, whether that needs to be on a one-to-one basis because of infection control, or as a group within the home’s boundaries until lockdown measures
are eased.

Useful supplies – suggestions from our members
  • Contact details of friends and loved ones.
  • Mobile phone or tablet.
  • Decks of cards.
  • Large print books.
  • Spiral notebooks.
  • Colouring pencils and other stationery.
  • Watercolours/paints.
  • Notice board to display work or messages.
  • Adult-appropriate colouring.
  • Craft supplies and kits.
  • Word searches and crosswords.
  • Wool.
  • Trivia books.
  • Hand-held video games.
  • Magazines and newspapers.
  • Small pots of flowers.
  • Life like dolls.
  • Robotic pets.
  • Essential oils and diffusers.
  • Music players and headphones.
  • Song sheets.

Hilary Woodhead is Executive Director of NAPA. Email: Twitter: @HilaryWoodhead.

To become a NAPA member and receive a comprehensive benefits package, email – quote ‘Care Management Introductory offer’ for three free months on subscription for new members.

What activities have been successful in your home? Share your knowledge and tell us what you think of this article in the comments below.

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