The science behind fun, connection and activity in aged care
International studies into aged care show that connectedness and activity bring psychological, mental and physical health benefits to the elderly, especially those living with cognitive conditions like dementia and Parkinson’s Disease.
SummitCare’s ten residential aged care homes across Sydney and in Wallsend, Newcastle have a long history of developing healthy, enjoyable leisure and lifestyle programs for their residents. Yet, as well as the kind of activities you’d expect, SummitCare staff work hard to research local entertainers, creatives and teachers who provide innovative programs that connect and inspire their residents, improving their health and wellbeing.
Shayne Watson, SummitCare Wallsend’s Lifestyle and Leisure Officer, says that the group’s focus is to offer a broad range of activities that blend cognitive and physical health benefits with a sense of connectedness and participation.
“We make a concerted effort to design activities that are not only fun but, just as importantly, bring tangible health and wellbeing benefits through programs like sitting yoga, visits from children and pet therapy,” she says.
“And the results are amazing! We see real physical, mental and social improvements in our residents as a result.”
Until recently, engagement specialist Maurie Voisey-Barlin was regularly bringing his special brand of Creative Therapeutic Engagement to residents at SummitCare Wallsend. As the distancing restrictions of COVID-19 kicked in, Maurie developed what he calls Window Therapy, where he visits people from outside the home’s windows and interacts with them from there.
“I work closely with the SummitCare clinical and lifestyle teams so that I can genuinely engage with residents and produce therapeutic outcomes,” he explains. “Window Therapy is part vaudeville, part improv, part interview and fully immersive. But, most importantly, it is integrated and embedded clinically.”
Another program in the home to show stunning results is Drawing Memories, that has been shared at conferences nationally and internationally. Developed and tested as part of a PhD project by University of Newcastle art teacher Margaret Rolla, the program was inspired by her personal connection with dementia.
Margaret works closely with the SummitCare team to determine which residents would most benefit from her work. She spends time with individual residents, getting to understand their tastes, interests and histories that can be reflected creatively in a drawing.
This program is different to other art and craft activities because its sensory-based and uses reminiscence, music, scents, images and objects to trigger memories and inspire art-making. The drawing activities involve problem solving and decision-making and can be both cognitively stimulating and relaxing at the same time.
“I’ve noticed considerably less agitation with some residents with dementia as they become focussed and engaged in their drawing,” she says.
Margaret recently had residents interpret individual elements of the famous Sunflowers painting by Van Gogh. Each drew a section and she pulled them all together digitally, had the whole piece printed on canvas and gifted it back to the home.
Dance 4 Wellbeing is a program that has very positive physical but also mental health benefits for SummitCare residents.
“Dance is unique because it uses and strengthens your emotions, cognitive skills, physical abilities and social connections. It’s a mind and body workout. It ticks all the boxes combining exercise, music, maybe some singing – and is recognised as one of the best activities that can engage the brain and the body in so many ways,” says Founder, Jessica Conneely.
Jessica is an accredited teacher of dance teachers. She has travelled the world and studied the therapeutic benefits of dance for our elders.
“Dance is great for breathing, core strength, coordination and balance. But the special thrill is that residents come alive through the triggers of music, rhythm, movement, expression, repetition and being together in a group. You can see them light up with memories.”
Innovative leisure and lifestyle programs like these are run at all SummitCare homes.
“Wellbeing of our residents goes way beyond just looking after their clinical and care needs,” says Michelle Sloane, SummitCare’s Chief Operating Officer.
“Across all of our homes, we’re very committed to also ensuring that the physical, emotional and social needs of everyone we support are met, taking into account their individual requirements and preferences.”
“By bringing meaningful programs like these that have demonstrated health and wellbeing benefits as well as pure enjoyment, we keep connections alive and thriving to develop experiences that add quality and value to the lives of all of our residents.”