Mark Topps care column on activities
Mark Topps
August 18, 2021

Mark Topps

Improving Care with Activities

There has been a lot of talk over the last six months about the importance of activities, especially within care homes, partly I believe due to us easing out of the pandemic and services being open for the people we support again and perhaps as we now understand the importance of meaningful activities to help stimulate people’s minds.

For anyone who has self-isolated during this pandemic, I would ask that you spend a couple of minutes reflecting on how it was. Personally, I thought it would be great to have two weeks off work to unwind and relax, but actually not having anything to do, not being able to get up and choose what to do and not being able to go out as freely as I would have liked was frustrating. The novelty of being off soon turned into boredom.

It is the same for people we support who cannot do these things themselves and rely on us as their care staff to support these activities.

Benefits of activities

Over the last couple of years, there has been a lot more research carried out to find out the average timeframe people undertake or stick with an activity, the impact it has on wellbeing, whether it reduces medications, increases stability/dexterity and more. The overall outcome is that meaningful activities help with all the above things; decreased medication, increased dexterity, reduced falls, increased concentration, improved mental health and wellbeing, reduced depression levels etc.

Activities need to have a starting point. It is crucial that the first thing we do with anyone we support is to find out what activities the person you are supporting enjoys and making a list of these. If you’re not sure, find out how much they can do for themselves and what support needs they have. It is also important to find out activities they used to enjoy as it is always worth re-trying these as our choices and likes/dislikes change as we get older. When supporting people with dementia it is good practice to retry activities as one thing they like and enjoy today may very much change the next day.

Knowing the person’s life history alongside any goals they have is crucial in being able to tailor activity plans and care plans to support them in achieving these goals. In learning disability services this happens a lot more often and goals are broken down into smaller steps and worked towards overtime. However, I would love to see this happen more in elderly services. It may be that someone we support wants to learn a new skill, undertake a new college course, jump out of a plane, learn how to play poker, lose weight, write a book and regardless of the activity or goal we should be supporting people to achieve these.

Taking risks into account

I know there will be someone reading this, either working within social care or outside of the sector who is saying “what about risk assessments?”. Yes, I would agree we need to ensure that thorough risk assessments are carried out and in place. However, it is crucial to think outside the box and encourage our teams to enforce positive risk-taking. We need to try as much as possible to reduce/remove the risk, assess the activity and how things can be done differently, consult with the next of kin/power of attorneys and support people to take risks. I am more than happy to support anyone looking to introduce positive risk-taking or who would like support with risk assessing.

Continuing the use of technology in services

Technology in care services has increased, especially during the pandemic with the introduction of Google Home/Alexa devices, video calling, and electronic games.

People we support have learnt new skills as well as being able to stay in contact with their friends and family. For some people, this has not worked and it is important that we find suitable alternatives, but it is crucial that we continue to build on the technology that people have access to especially as the population ages. People will want to maintain the online presence they have now, even when they are older and require support.

Finding the right activity for your service user

It is important that we remember that activities are not just for care homes, they should be embedded into everyday life for the people we support regardless of the “care setting” they live in. Our service users will all have hobbies, things they enjoy or dislike doing and this shouldn’t change just because they now require support.

It is equally important to remember that for some people, relaxing on a sofa watching tv may be meaningful to them and it is therefore important that you have an in-depth plan of the activities that someone does like or doesn’t like doing and the impact each has or can have on overall wellbeing in case anyone ever queries something.

One tip I will share is that when I used to assess someone, whether it was for home care or if the person was moving into a care home was to find out their activity likes and dislikes, whether there was anything new they wanted to try and also to put together their ‘5 golden moments’ which was their wish list or goals they wanted to achieve. I think regardless of what it is called, these are really important for the people we support and you can see and hear from people how much of a difference it has made. Their goals don’t have to be elaborate like bungee jumping but could be something as simple as flower arranging.