Activities for Elderly People in Care Homes
The days when nursing homes sat all their residents around the perimeter of a lounge with a TV on in the corner that they could neither see, hear nor were interested in, have thankfully been relegated to a bygone age.
These days, all homes, whether residential or nursing, are required to provide activities for their residents on a daily basis that are stimulating, engaging and person-centred—ensuring their minds and bodies are kept active, healthy and alert.
Regular activities that are centred around individual needs that include social interaction, as well as achievable tasks that can be completed alone, have been proven to help prevent depression, the onset or worsening of memory problems, the ceasing up of joints and muscles and pressure sores that come from long periods of inactivity.
Person-centred care means designing a care package that caters for the individual and encourages the care receiver to make their own choices in the care they receive as well as the activities they do on a day to day basis.
It is preferable where possible to include family and close friends as well as the individual themselves when designing the care package, especially where the individual suffers from dementia or other memory or mental health issues, as it is very common for residents in nursing or residential homes to feel isolated from their loved ones. It can also be very distressing for the families to witness the deteriorating health of their loved one, and to have had to "put them in a home." By working closely with the families they can still feel involved while being confident that their relative is being well cared for when they are not around.
A person centred activities plan should include:
- Communal activities that all residents in the home can take part in if they choose,
- Individual activities that they can do if they do not wish to take part.
- It should take into account a persons culture, language, religion, interests and jobs they have had in the past, and the choices they make on moving into the home.
- It also needs to take into account that people have the right to change their minds!
- Health issues should by no means prevent a person from enjoying regular and varied activities, the necessary resources should be put into place to cater for all!
An Example of a Communal Activies Weekly Timetable
Games or Wii
Cooking / Baking
Gardening (indoor and out)
Music for Health
Above is an example of a weekly activities timetable that could be put into place in a home that has up to 30 or 40 residents. Homes bigger than this would need to have at least 2 organised activities each morning and afternoon.
All care homes should employ an activities coordinator to ensure the activities happen as they should, are well organised and changed to suit the changing population of residents as is the nature of nursing and residential homes.
If a particular activity proves unpopular then it should be changed, and regular "house meetings" should be held to ensure that the activities fit what people actually like to do.
The activities in the example are by no means exhaustive, an activities coordinator with an imagination is essential to keep it interesting for the residents.
Most of the activities mentioned are self explanatory, however I will explain some of them here.
Music for Health
This is a program that has proved to be very popular in many nursing and residential homes.
It is a session where the residents get to listen to music that they can sing along to, relax to, and they have instruments like tambourines for example that they are encouraged to use along to the music.
Music for Health can be very beneficial in that it helps people remember old times, relax, socialise, have fun and also with coordination and gentle exercise in using the instruments. It is important that there is an area this activity can take place where interruptions are kept to a minimum, as the person leading the session needs to keep everyone's attention.
Using the Wii
Although we don't usually associate elderly people with gaming consoles, this has been a success in many homes brave enough to invest in one!
The advantage of the Wii is the interactive nature of the games, where the participants get some exercise whilst playing, it helps hand to eye coordination and the whole activity can be very sociable. It does require a large screen to play the games on so the residents can see what's happening!
This activity must be led by someone who has proper training in health and fitness in the elderly.
It is designed to increase the heart rate, helps keeps joints and limbs supple, uses muscles to keep them fit, aids coordination and is also great fun for everyone taking part.
All residents in nursing and residential homes must be encouraged to take some exercise whatever their mobility is like, and this is a great way to include the less mobile people in an exercise program that everyone can enjoy.
There are many musicians out there that make their living by going round residential and nursing homes entertaining the residents. This activity is always very popular, being sociable and fun, and helping to keep memories alert by remembering the songs!
This activity is a must for any self respecting activities timetable!
Reminiscence is an activity is particularly beneficial to those who suffer with dementia.
It involves talking about the past, remembering events in peoples lives, jobs they've had, activities they used to enjoy, people they knew or met, the list is endless! This activity is great with a small group of people, and should include items collected from the "old days" such as carbolic soap, that everyone involved will remember and can touch and smell, and helps get the conversation going.
Losing your memory as you get old can be very distressing and frightening. Reminiscence can bring a lot of comfort, even if some of the memories are sad ones, as everyone in the group will talk and comfort each other if they get sad.
The person leading this activity also needs to be able to turn the mood around to remember happy times too. Other things in the "memory box" could include pictures and ration books, anything that will bring back memories of times gone by!
Pets in the care home can be therapeutic for the residents in many ways. For many years I ran a residential care home for the elderly, and we had a cat, two budgies and some fish!
- The residents can help look them,
- People suffering from mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or dementia have reported feeling "calmer" when upset if they have been stroking an animal such as a cat or a dog.
- Some residents, sadly. get very few or no visitors at all. A pet can help make them feel loved and included.
- A fish tank helps create a calming atmosphere.
- Having animals around help to make the care environment feel more homely.
- People who visit the home with a view to an elderly relative moving in, like to see well cared for animals around! It shows them that the staff are caring and the communal areas feel homely and sociable.
- If you are running a care home and are considering getting a house pet, it is important to have a staff meeting to discuss this, as usually there will be some staff who will volunteer for the tasks of looking after the animals e.g. cleaning out the fish tank, feeding the cat or walking the dog. All of these tasks can be done with the residents as an activity.
- As with everything else in your care home, the pet will need to be risk assessed! A well written risk assessment will ensure all possible risks the animal could cause e.g. trip hazard, have been taken into account.
Catering for Everyone!
There will always be a number of people that do not want to take part in the organised activities. It is not enough just to have the activities timetable, everyone else needs to be catered for!
This is where the care plans come into their own, what does the individual like? Sports, watching TV, puzzles or jigsaws, being outside in the garden?
Small groups of residents with similar interests could be given a chance to something together; e.g., watch a game of football with a beer (although many elderly people in homes are on medication, it should be remembered that they are adults and many of them will like a drink sometimes! This can be checked with the doctor involved to ensure it does not interfere with their treatment.)
All homes should have a garden that is safe and accessible to all, and a TV lounge for those that want to watch TV. Regular visits from family and friends should be encouraged and where possible trips out should be offered. Peoples bedrooms need to be a place where they can go to be alone, with a TV and music or radio, books and newspapers should also be available.
If a persons health and mobility issues mean that they are confined to their beds, then it is important not to leave them out of the activities program. They should of course have access to music and TV if they want, also staff need to spend time with them (apart from delivering personal care) when they can read to them or chat when they have no visitors. Sometimes just being there with them is enough.
It is always vital to ask each individual what they want to do! Just because someone usually likes to take part in a particular activity, doesn't mean they won't change their minds one day and choose to do something else! Some people choose to watch an activity rather than take part, and this can be just as rewarding for them as it is for the people taking part.
A person-centred approach is vital for a truly successful activities program, and truly happy residents! Further advice on offering choice in care homes is available here.