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Evaluation article: Connecting past and present: the benefits of outings in older age

Published: Monday, 19 June 2017

Joanne Balmer talks about the benefits of outings for older people in residential care, using case studies from her experience at Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare.

Summary

  • Benefits of activities for older people include: enhancing residents’ well-being, raising their self-esteem, and reducing loneliness and isolation.
  • Activities can involve people in their local community and keep them in touch with their own personal history.
  • The activity and movement that trips bring reduces joint contraction, respiratory infection and high blood pressure.
  • There is also increasing evidence that outdoor trips can slow down the progression of dementia.

The best care homes are dynamic and interactive environments, and some of the most important opportunities they offer to residents are outdoor trips. Outings, arranged for individual residents or groups, are a vital means of allowing older people to connect with their past personalities and interests.

Benefits of outdoor visits

Activities yield a wide variety of benefits, including enhancing residents’ well-being, raising their self-esteem, and reducing loneliness and isolation. They involve residents more closely in their local community, and keep them in touch with their own personal history.

The benefits of leaving the familiar environment of a care home can be physical as well as psychological. According to the College of Occupational Therapists, the activity and movement involved in trips reduces joint contraction, respiratory infection and high blood pressure. There is also increasing evidence that outdoor trips can slow down the progression of dementia.

Outdoor excursions are a cornerstone of the efforts made by care home providers, such as Sunrise Senior Living UK and Gracewell Healthcare, to cater for a range of individual needs and ensure that residents are able to live active, fulfilling lives.

As Senior Director of Care and Quality at Sunrise Senior Living UK and Gracewell Healthcare, it is my responsibility to ensure continual quality improvement across all Sunrise and Gracewell homes, meeting and exceeding CQC requirements. As part of this, it is paramount that we help residents to remain in touch with their passions when they join a care home – especially as many will have joined from their own homes, where so many memories were created.

Case studies

Football

Staff at Sunrise Senior Living of Eastbourne make it their priority to ensure that residents can pursue their past passions and enduring hobbies. As part of this initiative, 75-year-old Robin Fryer, a lifelong fan of Brighton & Hove Albion football club, was given the chance to attend his first match at the club’s stadium since having to give up his season ticket due to ill health.

Lana Vanhinsbergh, the reminiscence care assistant, was determined to make this wish a reality for Robin, as Brighton Football Club has been his second home throughout his life. She arranged for him to watch a game in the company of his son and grandson. Enjoying a hot dog and cup of tea recreated the experience for Robin. He was even presented with a match day programme signed by the Brighton players, adding a personal touch to the experience and offering him a tangible token to remember the day by. The chance to return to such a special place in his later years proved an invaluable experience.

Theatre

Some residents have a love for football; others reminisce about their days performing on stage. Muriel Moran, 90-year-old resident at Sunrise of Westbourne, recently celebrated a return to the spotlight in a theatre production.

Rewinding the clock to the time when Muriel was a star of amateur dramatics, staff arranged for her to don a full costume at The Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth. Alongside fellow Sunrise residents, Muriel read lines from Peter Pan, and relived history by learning about the famous faces that have walked through the theatre’s door.

After the outing, Antonia Sinclair, the activities co-ordinator who organised the experience, reported that Muriel’s trip to the Pavilion in Bournemouth had brought back cherished memories of her days performing amateur dramatics, and allowed her to connect with the present and with the local community.

Museums

At some Gracewell care homes, the emphasis on outdoor trips forms part of the ‘Wishing Well’ programme, established so that staff can try to make residents’ wishes a reality.

At Gracewell of Weymouth, for example, a number of residents with backgrounds in the armed forces have a particular interest in the new D-day Museum which has opened in the town.

Staff are organising a group trip for these residents, which will allow them to interact with historical items such as combat equipment that they experienced at first-hand, and to read about stories and historical experiences paralleling their own.

Practical activities

At Gracewell of Frome, staff arranged for former pilot Reg Gilbert to fly a plane over Dorset and Longleat. Having flown different types of planes throughout his career, Reg said after the trip that flying is like riding a bike – something a person will never forget once they have learned how to do it.

Chris Dixon, who oversees the activities programme at Gracewell of Frome, particularly stresses the importance of offering residents the chance to take control once more. Reg took great enjoyment from being back in the cockpit. Activities like this have a clear impact on the positivity and well-being of residents, which remains noticeable for many weeks after the experience itself.

Conclusion

These examples show the potential of outings to invigorate and uplift individual residents, an important aspect of the wider ethos of care providers that emphasise a varied programme of activities. We want to give residents the best platform possible to continue developing themselves as people, and engage with the hobbies, interests and passions that they have held so dearly throughout their lives.

An individual’s time in a care home should not be a separate stage of their life, but should be inseparable from their past experiences, providing the opportunity to build on and strengthen previous endeavours and activities.

Every time I set foot in a Sunrise or Gracewell home, I am amazed by the vast array of interesting stories that residents have to tell, and the range of backgrounds that they have arrived from. Outdoor trips are a crucial avenue through which residents can continue to express their personalities, while simultaneously allowing them to interact with the local community – and share their tales with younger generations.

Outings and day trips enhance the psychological and physical well-being of residents, provide continuity with the past, and offer the opportunity to connect with the people and places of the surrounding area – all undoubtedly crucial to leading a healthy, active and fulfilling lifestyle in later years.

About the author

Joanne Balmer MBA, BSc, RN, DipHE is Senior Director of Care and Quality at Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare. She is responsible for ensuring that Sunrise and Gracewell care homes exceed CQC requirements, as well as for governance, regulation and quality improvement. She has held senior clinical governance roles at several national care providers and specialises in change management and clinical leadership.

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