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The importance of person-centred activities in the equation for happiness in care homes

thorp residents actitivies 2 2021

When someone moves into a care home he or she often fears losing their identity: those little things that make them an individual, the passions and interests that colour their life. Caring UK Awards finalist Marcia Hughes, wellbeing coordinator at Thorp House, in Watton, explains the importance of person-centred activities and the central role they play in Kingsley Healthcare care homes.
Looking back to when I first took on the role of wellbeing coordinator I realise now how inexperienced I was.
Thoughts of group art and craft projects seemed so easy to plan until I quickly realised that residents don’t come in a one-size-fits-all/ we-all-enjoy-the-same-thing box.
Some residents got excited about getting together while others just wanted to be left alone - or did they?
Anxiety and dementia seem to run hand in hand and I began to understand that confidence diminishes quickly when your mind and hands work more slowly – ‘I can’t do that’, ‘I won’t be any good’ or ‘what’s the point’, I heard often.
My answer: because we can! Even if something seems pointless at the time we can still have a giggle doing it, maybe learn something new and it might keep us out of mischief.
Life stories play a very big part early on, sometimes it’s difficult if there is no family contact straight away and illness or memory loss can be a barrier making it difficult to interpret and find out likes and dislikes.
But once you do, then any activity can be adapted; gardening, for example, can be as varied as planting bulbs in pots on a tray for those nursed in bed, flower arranging in a group, painting in arts and craft, a walk in the garden as a one-to-one, chopping herbs or answering questions in a gardening themed quiz - so many activities can be achieved just out of one interest.
I believe activities should be encouraged by all staff; even if staff are not able to take part in the actual event they can still play an important role in that resident’s activity and wellbeing journey.
Recently a new resident who had been very isolated in hospital came out of her room for the first time to join in our cooking club, she was encouraged and supported by the care staff who got her ready, jollying her along despite her protests that she would not know anyone.
She agreed to sit at the table and watch and lo and behold within 10 minutes of watching she got frustrated and started to show us how it’s really done. Without the care staff’s encouragement that resident may not have agreed to join in.
A church service held in the home recently saw another resident attend; I knew religion was very important to her because of her life story and I explained to the vicar that the resident was Italian born. She was really surprised to then receive her Holy Communion in Italian - this vicar is amazing!  The response was incredible. From now on all her prayers and Holy Communion will be held in Italian for her.
A private baptism was also held, witnessed by staff and family, for a palliative care journey resident creating wonderful memories for the family to treasure.
One resident’s wish sat on our Wishing Tree for over six months due to her falling ill and her slow recovery, but as soon as she was well enough she attended a local horse-riding school where she spent time in the stall grooming a pony and reminiscing about memories as a child riding.
A small donation, a patient groom and half an hour for me to get her wellies on was all it took and, despite Alzheimer’s now taking its toll, she is still able to recall this memory bringing back a smile each time.
We have discovered from life stories some eye-opening things from basic likes, dislikes and interests to ladies that have driven tractors, shocking war memories to secret hobbies and illicit affairs. All of which demonstrate the uniqueness of our residents and their lives.
One of our very popular exercise sessions came about from discovering a love of badminton; being restricted by being unable to hold anything heavy and unable to walk, the activity was adapted with a swimming noodle as a racket and a balloon.
The stretching and hand-to-eye coordination required in this activity brings me out in a sweat; 30 minutes of exercise for anyone is an achievement, let alone a 96-year-old who has to be encouraged to put her bat away!
All staff are encouraged to join in activities and care; kitchen and domestic staff can often be found dancing to Elvis dressed up in a crazy costume or chasing a balloon around the room.
One of our carers has a very clear speaking voice and when asked by a resident why she spoke so clearly, she explained her parents are deaf - this has started a new passion for this resident to learn sign language at the grand age of 92!
Teamwork led our home to get into the final seven in the UK for activities and community involvement at a National Award. This recognition of staff is wonderful.
Activities I believe is not a one-person island it is all-inclusive:  the life story, the evolving resident, the family, the staff -  put it all together and then the ball just starts rolling - result Happy People!

Find out more about Thorp House nursing home

Author: Stephen Pullinger

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