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Asa Johnson, Project Manager for Activities and Memory Care at Sunrise Senior Living UK and Gracewell Healthcare

Asa Johnson, Project Manager for Activities and Memory Care at Sunrise Senior Living UK and Gracewell Healthcare, shares his thoughts on the importance of promoting emotional and physical wellbeing through the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.

Over the last few months, many people have faced changes to their lives. Daily routines have been affected, as access to leisure venues has been stopped or restricted, and many have been unable to see family and friends. This shift has had the potential to affect many people’s emotional and physical wellbeing.

Sunrise Senior Living UK and Gracewell Healthcare care homes have continued to support residents’ emotional and physical wellbeing. The care homes offer a wide variety of clubs and leisure activities scheduled daily. In addition, team members are always looking for ways to help residents have meaningful moments throughout the day.

Since the pandemic, Sunrise and Gracewell have retained their focus on supporting residents to live with purpose. Due to Covid-19, the ways in which they aspire to do this have had to change. The activity team members across the organisation have been determined to use their creativity to adapt to the new precautions put in place.

Team members and residents have shared their skills and talents, from running art clubs and worship services, to musical performances and demonstrations. Where people have had to isolate in their own rooms, ‘activity packs’ have been produced and shared, as well as resources and items catered to the interests of the resident. Sunrise and Gracewell teams have also explored different ways of maximising the use of the home’s gardens, getting involved with initiatives such as Growing for Wellbeing Week.

The continuation of the Live with Action programme has been key to helping residents remain physically active. A focus on both aerobic and strength and balance exercise has been important, especially for those isolating in their own rooms whose normal daily routines will have changed. Sunrise and Gracewell have organised virtual exercise classes and both team members and residents have run their own sessions including yoga, dance and boxercise. Many of the homes have held walking competitions, and throughout July, they celebrated the Spirit of the Olympics.

However, with a reduction in group activity, the opportunity for meaningful conversations and interactions has increased. This can have a positive effect on mental wellbeing; talking about feelings and emotions can be very cathartic for residents. All Sunrise and Gracewell homes were provided with new iPads to give residents more opportunity to video call their friends and family. This has been vital for many in keeping that sense of connection with the people that mean the most to them.

To further that sense of connection and share positivity, some of the care homes have produced weekly newsletters filled with ‘good news’ stories. They have also discussed motivational stories or quotes, started pen pal projects with young people in the local community, and offered regular mindfulness sessions.

In addition, to support residents’ emotional wellbeing, Sunrise and Gracewell have introduced Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST) across their care homes. This is a group programme for people living with mild to moderate symptoms of dementia. It can also be offered on an individual basis, therefore, those who may have had to isolate in their own rooms have still had access to the programme. Group sessions take place with up to six people twice a week for seven weeks, and then move to once a week for 24 weeks.

The benefits of CST are well documented, and there is evidence of improved memory and verbal communication for some people who take part in the programme. Throughout this difficult time, supportive measures such as CST have been particularly important. They give people the opportunity to talk to other people with dementia and share experiences in a relaxed and supportive environment.

Shannon Watson, Memory Care Lead at Gracewell of Kentford care home, said: “Over the past few months we have enrolled CST”, explains. It is clear from our observations and collecting data around wellbeing how much of an impact this has had on our residents and team. For example, one of our residents was quite restless before starting the therapy. Several weeks in to CST, and she now engages with the whole session and has actually made friendships within the group. Her whole wellbeing has improved and seems to be much happier. The team can see what an impact this therapy has played to our residents - we are thrilled.”

Ultimately, supporting the residents and ensuring they continue to have a sense of connection, meaning and purpose will always be at the heart of what Sunrise and Gracewell do. Whilst the last few months have forced a change upon us, we have learnt to adapt and seek new was to achieve this to ensure the emotional and physical wellbeing needs of people living at Sunrise and Gracewell homes are being met. 


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