When selecting the best residential aged care for someone it is easy to look at obvious things like the location, meals, surrounds and medical care, without paying enough attention to the leisure activities offered.

Leisure activities are often opportunities to develop social relationships, which in turn are associated with better physical, emotional, social and mental wellbeing.

And, vice versa, the stronger the social relationships, the more likely a person is to participate in leisure activities.  Older people living in residential aged care are valuable members of society, who need quality leisure activities to promote independence and wellbeing.

Up to 35% of people in living residential aged care experience anxiety or depression.  Perhaps if more emphasis was paid to residents’ emotional health and wellbeing rather than staff performance measures, this statistic may have more impact.

The Department of Health and Human Services has moved to a Consumer Directed Care Model, maximising opportunities for people to have both choice and control over their lives.  People in residential aged care need more than token consultation over decisions that affect them.

“Leisure” includes physical, mental and social activities; whatever a person chooses to do in their spare time.  The key to leisure is that it is a choice – what a person actually wants to do, not just what other people think they might want to do.

Most Leisure and Lifestyle Coordinators do a fantastic job, but they all have different skills and interests.  In my role, working with people to find the best aged care for them, I have seen amazing craft activities at some residential homes, while others focus on music.

One of the first questions people moving into residential aged care should be asked is ‘What is important to you?’  The next step is to find somewhere that provides the leisure activities that meet a person’s needs.

We worked with a lady moving into residential aged care whose interest were going out for coffee and listening to music.  We located a home opposite a café, and who, when asked about their activities, said ‘Music is our thing.’  A match made in heaven.

Consider the following two examples:

Staff in one residential aged care home identified that very few men were attending leisure activities.  It was decided, without consultation, to start a men’s group, so a notice was put out inviting men to an afternoon tea.

About 10 men attended, with afternoon tea organised and one staff member present.  The men’s group was then listed as an activity on the monthly program, but the next month only one gentleman showed up, no staff, and there were no activities or afternoon tea organised.

The next month there was no one.  The conclusion was that men just weren’t interested in leisure activities.

Another residential aged care home also identified that very few men were attending leisure activities.  In contrast to the above example, the staff in this home consulted residents and a men’s shed was organised where men could brew their own beer and plant vegetables and flowers in raised garden beds.

Staff supported the residents to organise a tour of local cottage breweries, and took them on monthly excursions to different pubs in the area.  This men’s group grew, and participants reported high satisfaction levels.

The importance of leisure activities designed to meet the interests of residents cannot be underestimated.  When choosing residential aged care, looking at the recreation activities program is important, but more information can be obtained by asking for examples about the responsiveness of the Leisure and Lifestyle Coordinators to suggestions of new activities.

This indicates whether a home is flexible and able to meet an individual’s needs.

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