22nd March 2017

Active living, healthy ageing

Health researchers have in recent years highlighted the fact that inactivity is a major threat to public health. Being inactive increases our risk of developing cardiovascular disease, mental health problems, and obesity-related diseases such as diabetes.

But our society does not encourage activity: labour-saving devices are seen as a sign of progress and success; cars; large TV screens; take away meals; one stop shopping at supermarkets or online. All of these have their place, but they can reduce our chance of having a daily physically active lifestyle. American research showed that people with lower activity levels in mid-life had reduced brain volume as they aged and were more at risk of developing dementia.

Benefits of activity

Reduced activity levels increases our risk of developing chronic illnesses. Conversely, being active reduces that risk and has many health benefits.

Some time ago I worked with a service which had introduced regular exercises involving leg and ankle movement for their older residents. The sessions were led by an external expert from the local University with knowledge of physiotherapy and the incidence of falls in the elderly. The care home was delighted to find that the exercise sessions had considerably reduced the incidence of falls and fractures in the group of older people who had taken part. Regular exercise had strengthened muscle and bone health, as well as promoting improved balance and agility.

Other services which I worked with had introduced imaginative measures to promote activities: a flower and vegetable garden; a putting green in the grounds; a volunteer who gave informal music tuition; and an art exhibition of the work of the people in the service. All of these were meaningful, enjoyable activities which promoted people's health. They were also preventive measures, reducing the risk of developing illness.

Promoting activities

It is clear that we can boost people's health and well-being through promoting activities in care services. How do we do this?

A recent initiative from the Scottish Government has provided £1m in funding recently to support a partnership between the Care Inspectorate and some national care providers to improve activity levels for older people. The Care Inspectorate is the care regulator in Scotland, and has information and what they term 'intelligence' to enable areas and services which can be best supported to improve the activity levels of people who use the services.

At the launch of the project, the Chair of the Care Inspectorate Board, Paul Edie, stated: '...we have a duty to ensure that everyone who uses a care service receives good quality care which meets their needs and respects their choices and rights. Some people in care just need a little help to keep active, and that often means taking part in something as simple as helping to prepare a meal or going for a short walk. We know that being supported to take part in everyday activities is something that many people take for granted, but which can become more difficult as we get older, yet can have a tremendously positive effect on people’s quality of life and their experience of care.

The Care Inspectorate intends to have local training and awareness events for services and their staff, particularly where it sees the greatest need. Support for individual services can also be provided if necessary. Another aim is to see support for activity as part of the role of the competent care worker, and as part of supporting their professional development.

Outcomes and aspirations

Paul Edie in the quote above mentioned respect for people's choices and rights. New care standards are being introduced from this year in Scotland, and these emphasise the importance of personal outcomes and aspirations. It would, therefore, be both compliant with standards as well as helpful in support to ascertain in our assessments what the preferred projects and aspirational outcomes each person would wish, and then work to support the attainment of these.

Support for activity is something we should all support. It promotes a healthy and long lifestyle, and contributes in that way indirectly to the success of the services in which we participate.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Tony Clarke

Scottish Care Inspectorate Specialist

Tony began care work as a care assistant in care of the elderly here in Scotland in the 1970s. He very much enjoyed promoting activities, interests and good basic care. After a gap to gain a social work qualification, he worked in management of care services, latterly as a peripatetic manager which gave him experience of a wide range of services.

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