A Beginners Guide to Being an Activity Coordinator in a Care Home

What are activities in Care Homes for, and why they are important?

Activities in care homes are an essential part of ensuring that residents get both the mental and physical stimulation that they need to remain healthy, fulfilled, and happy. In the past care homes got a bad name for simply “parking residents in front of the TV all day”, or in general neglecting residents’ personal needs. Thankfully those days are long gone and all care homes now have someone responsible for the coordination of wellbeing and lifestyle activities.

As people get older, they are more prone to deterioration of both their mental and physical health, a lot of this can be prevented or delayed through the effective use of various activities. Whether this is through physical exercise, social engagement, fulfilling hobbies, fun and testing games, sensory stimulation, or reminiscence. Being in a care home can be disorientating, daunting, and give a sense of isolation for people. Activities are vital in combatting this by bringing in structure, purpose, fun, and social interaction into people’s days.

Some people have specific conditions such a visual impairment, dementia, or physical disability of some kind. Activities can be used in several ways as either a treatment, therapy or preventative measure for so many conditions and thereby help improve the quality of life of those suffering from such conditions.

Activities can mean a variety of ways to keep people occupied and help give enjoyment and purpose to someone’s day. Care homes should provide a safe, clean place to live for older people but it is also important to provide stimulation to the brain and keep older bodies active. These things help to stave off brain-deteriorating diseases such as Dementia while keeping muscles strong helps avoid falls and broken bones.
Relatives can help in providing an insight into the individual interests and capabilities of their loved ones for person-centred care and activity provision to be tailored properly. This is vitally important for all residents and even more for anyone living with dementia.

The activity coordinator needs to ensure that a person has the correct ‘fit’ with activities and will create activities that will be within a person’s achievable capabilities, but also not be too simple. Providing well-thought-out activities is not only an essential part of current Government policy, but it is also an essential need for the person being cared for, irrespective of age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or religious needs.

Some residents may find difficulty in adjusting to living in a care home and making new friends; activity coordinators can help this by providing ‘ice breaker’ activities that help people to get to know each other through meaningful discussion and talking about shared experiences. Studies have found that residents who regularly participate in activities will suffer less from problems such as depression, dependency and risk of falls.

What aspects should activities in care homes cover?

Activities should cover a wide range of pastimes that include creativity, fitness and social interaction. The subjects on offer should be designed to help with both mental and physical health and wellbeing. There should be opportunities for residents to take part in grouped activities but also to enjoy more specialist activities tailored to their taste if they wish. These may include things like knitting, gardening, crosswords etc.
Activity coordinators also need to consider special needs i.e. mental or physical difficulties and anyone living with dementia. It is important to be able to achieve the dementia quality standard for social care set by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Health and safety measures should be of the utmost importance if organising says, a cooking activity, care should be given that no one can cut or burn themselves. This may mean extra staffing to assist or that the activity is specially tailored to their needs e.g. height-adjustable tables for anyone in a wheelchair.

How to think about care home activity attributes:

There are different attributes of activities which are useful to think about when deciding what to use and when. This should help you when selecting products or deciding on types of activity session:

  • Mental vs. physical therapy – does this activity require the user to move, does it require them to stretch, does it help their hand-eye coordination?
  • Social interaction – does this activity provide a means for residents to interact with one another more easily?
  • Reminiscence – does this activity help bring out memories for those dealing with memory loss?
  • Fulfilment – does this activity give the user a sense of achievement or purpose?
  • Fun and enjoyment – is this activity entertaining and fun?
  • Relaxing – does this product alleviate stress and calm the person using it?

How activity coordinators can organise their days

Activity coordinators will often begin their programme after residents are up, washed and dressed and have eaten breakfast. Spend some time checking who is taking part and if there are any special considerations to be met. This time of day is when people are likely to be at their most attentive, so it is good to start with activities that require some concentration such as crafting or maybe some type of art project. Try to cater for all abilities and ensure you have everything you need laid out beforehand. Enlist the help of residents where possible, we all like to feel useful and many will enjoy counting out brushes, laying out materials etc. and can be a real boon to clearing up at the end too!
Late morning is a great time to do some fitness fun. This can be done in a variety of ways to incorporate gentle stretching and helping to improve circulation. There are some great professional DVDs around that are designed for older bodies and these can be made even more fun with accessories like cheerleader pom-poms and scarves. Or try some active games like badminton and table tennis for those who are able. Even throwing a bean bag onto a games mat utilises the upper body.

After lunch, many residents prefer to have some quiet time to sleep or read. This is a good time to introduce some board games or a quiz. Reminiscence groups can also be set up – especially for anyone with dementia. Special themed boxes can be bought that have nostalgic items to hold and pass around. These often lead to dormant memories being unearthed and to discuss shared experiences about individuals’ pasts.
Evenings can also be a great time to organise musical singing activities. You can use a pre-prepared CD and large print songbook – there are many great titles with favourite songs to get everyone joining in. You can also add some instruments – anyone with dementia can often enjoy beating a drum in time or shaking some maracas.

Try to end the sessions by making notes about what went well/improvements to make next time. Try to plan for the next day to ensure you have the necessary equipment and staffing. Write it on a display board for all to see for residents to decide in advance what they wish to participate in.

How to get help with activity coordination

At Activities to Share we are always willing to help however we can, so please feel free to pick up the phone and speak to us if you’re struggling for inspiration or ideas. If you are new to activity coordination then there’s no need to feel alone; there are lots of people who have been where you are now, especially considering that this function within care homes is fairly new.
Reach out to fellow activity coordinators:
If you are part of a care home group then reach out to other homes and see what they are doing activity-wise. If you are at an independent care home then you could still reach out to other homes in the area (generally speaking homes don’t see themselves as competing with one another, so most people will be willing to help out).

Other people in your area who could help

Try getting in contact with your local Age UK branch as there’ll most likely be many people there, either with direct experience or who know others in the area. There are all kinds of resources available on the internet (a few are listed below) and via social media e.g. Facebook groups, Pinterest lists, LinkedIn Groups, and YouTube videos.

Get specific Activity Coordination Training

The likes of NAPA (National Activity Providers Association) and several other organisations offer specific courses aimed specifically at activity coordinators. If your time and budget don’t allow for training courses then the next best thing would be to read one of the following books:

Get relatives involved

Relatives can help in providing an insight into the individual interests and capabilities of their loved ones for person-centred care and activity provision to be tailored properly. They can also help with the less day-to-day style activities such as a day out or a special garden celebration.

Useful online resources for activity coordinators

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