Activities are an area which is sadly seen to be less of a priority than it should be in care homes at present. Often staff feel they “don’t have time” or “personal care” is more important.
Now no one is saying that personal care isn’t important, of course, this should be the skeleton of all care institutions but residency in a care home should include so much more than just the basic human needs of eating, sleeping and personal hygiene. It should include other vital social/emotional needs such as human touch and interaction. Love, friendship and social stimulation are paramount to the mental health of residents as well as affecting physical health, as those who are happy, content, feel safe, secure and loved will deteriorate far slower, sleep and eat better and be far less likely to suffer falls or hospital admissions.
Why care home activities are important
The dictionary definition of the word “activities” includes synonyms – activeness, animation, life and liveliness, entertainment, hobby, spirit, and vitality. These words all describe things you would hope and pray for your loved one to have despite moving into residential care and this is why activities are paramount. There is a need for those in care to retain, regain and even develop new skills (there is an entire unit in SVQ III Health and Social Care dedicated to exactly this) in order to continue having a good quality of life. The “quality” of care in a care home should be based on how residents feel and the quality of their lives, not just the food and décor.
Often when we think of activities we think of the “all singing, all dancing” approach but with residents who live with dementia, activities can be far smaller, more person-centred and valuable.
Activities can be anything which is enriching, purposeful and beneficial to the resident. Activities are different for everyone. We all have different hobbies, likes and dislikes. Dementia doesn’t change this. It doesn’t “define” a person, it just becomes part of them but if stimulated and nurtured people can live full and enriched lives which include fun, laughter and purposeful activity.
As a Dementia Care Worker, you should be an active listener and an investigator of sorts, sifting through information, watching for reactions, using trial and error with activities until you source what makes your resident tick, what brings smiles and laughter, and also what brings tears and frustration.
However, dementia is such a changeable condition. Remember to not dismiss ideas too quickly without trying on different days, at different times or in different locations as this can all make a huge difference to the receptiveness of the resident. Most importantly, once you do your research, share your findings with colleagues so that all staff involved with each resident can adapt their care methods to best suit each resident.
With activities in mind, we must focus on finding connections with residents, reigniting passions from the past, offering new experiences and making sure that activities are purposeful. Seeing residents sit around a table with bingo cards most of whom are sleeping and cannot cope with such things any longer is crushing and often the reason why people don’t see the importance in activities in general. But seeing the smiles and laughter and realising how the whole day can be affected by this is truly rewarding for staff, management, relatives and the residents themselves.
What kind of activities work best?
That very much depends on the resident group, their level of dementia and their previous involvement with activities. I have found in my experience that activities where even in a group situation you can focus on one or two residents at a time work far better. This is for a variety of reasons. First of all, with old age and dementia, many people suffer deterioration of sight, cataracts, glaucoma and other eye conditions meaning a group activity wouldn’t suit as they simply couldn’t see what was going on. Another reason can be attentiveness. Attention span and concentration will decrease as part of dementia and its effects on the brain however if engaged properly residents can retain their ability to concentrate and engage in activities far better. One to one or small group activities will give you the ability to focus more on each resident helping them to focus on what is going on.
Think of things which make you smile. Music, beautiful photographs, outings, animals, children singing and laughing, are all wonderful ways of enriching lives of those you care for. But equally manicures, massage, yoga, light exercise and food tasting can all be enjoyable.
Think outside the box. Life isn’t box shaped, it’s a kaleidoscope of shapes and colours.