When activity-coordinators first started to appear in care homes - over a decade ago now - everyone instantly saw the benefit of them. The change in wellbeing for residents was extraordinary and the number of Activity Coordinators has continued to rise. The same thing is happening with the Whole Home Approach, which has been around for several years now, but is finally starting to gain real traction.
I believe very strongly in this approach in care homes. During the course of a day or night, a resident will have the opportunity to interact with everyone from the administrative team, kitchen staff and gardeners to carers, nurses and doctors. It isn’t right that many of these people simply avoid speaking with residents. Why shouldn’t they speak the residents in a natural way that is enjoyable for everyone?
When we did a survey last year we found that, on average, there is one activity co-ordinator for every 33 residents. It is impossible for that person to give the quality and quantity of human connection that’s needed to all those people for the whole day. Clearly we cannot just leave it to one person.
Older people are not looking for a resource or a programme of events (as valuable as these are). They mainly want your company. They want to feel they’ve been interacted with, to have that human connection. You’re set up for failure if you’re doing it all alone.
But, if you can encourage, enthuse and support all staff to also share a moment with the residents, the possibility of providing that quality of activity and interaction goes up exponentially.
I recently visited a home in Scotland who have made radical changes using the whole-home approach. It was a big home, split over two floors with around 80 residents and plenty of staff. As we walked around the home, the manger would introduce me to various non-activity staff (care staff, domestics, maintenance etc) as ‘Chris, from the Daily Sparkle’. Without exception, every single one of them knew straight away who I was, and said: “Oh yes, I know. It’s great – we use it every day to talk to the residents.” This is great – and exactly what we should all be aiming for. Everyone at that home, from people in the kitchen to the cleaners or someone taking round the tea trolley, were talking to the residents every day, just making simple conversation about things they’d read or seen. Crucially, they were sharing that human connection as a simple, natural part of their day.
The effect on the residents was clear too. There was a really relaxed feel everywhere. The residents weren’t yearning for attention, because they were getting attention. It felt like a ‘home’ in every sense of the word, residents and staff were comfortable and happy.
And this surely, surely must our goal.