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Helping people in care homes access activities that will improve their health

One local Healthwatch calls for meaningful activity to become an integral part of the culture of care homes after speaking to people in 15 services.

We spoke to Healthwatch Sunderland to find out how they have helped highlight the value of these activities in their local care homes.

What is meaningful activity?

According to NICE guidance, meaningful activity includes physical, social and leisure activities that are tailored to each person’s needs and preferences. The Alzheimer's society has also found that such activities are vital for older people in care homes and can have a positive effect on “mortality rates, depression, physical function and behavioural symptoms.”

What did you do?

Between July and September 2015 we carried out 15 visits to residential care homes in Sunderland to look at the range and quality of meaningful activities available to residents. Our aim was to not only identify barriers to accessing this kind of opportunity, but also any examples of innovative and creative activities which could help improve other local services. 

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What did people tell you?

When we spoke to residents, family members and staff about the activities provided, we found that:

  • Having an Activity Coordinator is important
    Activity Coordinators were highly committed and really wanted to improve the lives of residents through a range of activities.

  • Meeting the needs of people with Dementia
    A great deal of activity was designed for people with Dementia, specifically around stimulating memory, armchair exercises and singing.

  • Placing people at the centre of their care
    Residents liked having a personalised care plan designed around their needs. 

  • Involving families and carers
    Family and friends were mostly satisfied with the range of activities on offer, the opportunities to participate and about being able to make suggestions.

    “My mother has advanced Alzheimer’s and every effort is made to involve her in many activities… if it were not for this level of stimulation, I think she would be much less responsive.”

  • Barriers to providing activities
    In some care homes, daily activities were not supported by other staff and this left Activity Coordinators feeling frustrated. Insufficient funding also made it impossible for some to provide these opportunities.

What happened as a result?

We wrote a report outlining recommendations based on what people told us. These include mandatory training for staff to ensure meaningful activity is part of the culture in care homes and becomes everyone’s responsibility. We shared our report with our Local Authority Health Scrutiny Committee, Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group, care home providers and various charities, including Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society. 

What feedback did you receive?

We received positive feedback from the council team who commission local care services. Recommendations from our report, including personalised activities, the involvement of people and their family during planning, and training for staff, have helped to influence a new specification for the care homes they fund.

The specification  sets out the standard of care and support that local providers are expected to deliver, to make sure people have a good quality service and are treated with dignity and respect.

Do you want to share your experiences of your local care home?

If you want to share your experiences of either living in a care home yourself or having a family member who does, get in touch with your local Healthwatch.

Find your local Healthwatch