Why ‘Don’t step on a Bee Day’ is so important for care homes

Dementia Care
July 9, 2021

This article was first published on The Carer Issue 60, pg 4 

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Bees are as remarkable as they are extraordinary. Amazingly, if there were no bees around a third of our food would disappear overnight. Did you know also that these fascinating creatures can fly up to three miles from their hive to collect pollen? In doing so, these ‘busy bees’ live up to their nicknames by beating their wings at 200 times per second which propels them to speeds of up to 15 miles per hour.

When most of us think of bees, we think of honey bees and bumble bees. But there are hundreds of different species – around 270 in all – living on these shores. That said, according to National Geographic Kids, “bee colonies have been disappearing” for the last 15 years or so. In the UK, bee numbers are shrinking at an incredible rate. A recent study conducted in the UK by Nature Communications says that “a third of British wild bees are in decline”.iii That’s why awareness events such as ’Don’t Step on a Bee Day’, which falls on Saturday, 10th, July, are so important.

Bees and dementia

But does any of this have to do with social care and dementia – the field that I specialise in? Having worked as a leading dementia specialist for over 35 years, I spent many of those years working as a consultant with people living with dementia in residential care homes. At Sunrise Senior Living, where I was Director of Memory Care for four years, ‘Don’t Step on a Bee Day’ was – and continues to be – an exceptionally important date in the activity events calendar. Why? Well, we know from research that outdoor activities, not only alleviate stress for those with dementia, but promote spiritual and emotional wellbeing. There is also evidence that outdoor activities help to slow cognitive decline.

The challenge that many care home activity teams have is ensuring that every single person living with dementia can enjoy ‘Don’t Step on a Bee Day’. The greatest challenge that activity teams face of course is assessing the cognitive ability of each individual to ensure that each person is fully engaged in the activity. This often means creating several different activities. But how do you cognitively assess each individual? It was a question that I asked myself when I first began my journey working as a senior occupational therapist in Gwynedd in the late 1980s. My research led me to create the Pool Activity Level (PAL) Instrument, which has been specifically designed to assess the cognitive and functional ability of those living with dementia. At QCS, the leading provider of content, guidance and standards for the social care sector where I currently work as Dementia Care Champion, we’re taking the instrument to a whole new level.

The QCS PAL Instrument

So, how can the QCS PAL Instrument help activity teams to make the most of events such as ‘Don’t Step on a Bee Day’, this year? In a nutshell, the instrument ensures that services can plan the right activity for each individual by assessing them across four different levels of ability.

The ‘Planned’ level means that a person can largely participate in tasks by themselves. Those who can engage at a PAL Exploratory level need guidance, while a person functioning at a PAL Sensory level, requires much more help from the activity team. Finally, a person engaging at a PAL Reflex level, will need extensive support from their carer and is likely to engage by way of therapeutic connections.

Having forged a collaborative relationship with the National Activity Providers Association (NAPA), a charity specialising in creating meaningful activities, I worked closely with NAPA to create a colour coding key. The key makes it even easier for providers to match a person’s cognitive ability to the level of participation support required. It has also ensured that NAPA’s 3,000 members have the best of both worlds – a bespoke and effective way in which to assess cognitive function and a myriad of activities to choose from, which have been expressly designed to work alongside the QCS PAL Instrument.

Activities for Don’t Step on a Bee Day

So, what activities would NAPA suggest for ‘Don’t Step on a Bee Day’? Who better to ask than Natalie Ravenscroft, NAPA’s Wellbeing Support Manager? Natalie says, “Like any other event, care services need to carefully plan for ‘Don’t Step on a Bee Day’. The activities must be carefully graded so everyone in the care service can participate. The activities must also form part of a story, which has a beginning and an end. In the case of ‘Don’t Step on a Bee Day’, the wider narrative is to follow and celebrate the lives of bees as they collect pollen and turn it into honey. The activities should be planned around the honey bees’ cyclical journey.

Natalie continues, “That journey begins with the activity coordinators seeking advice from their local garden centre or their local bee keeping society as to which plants attract bees. Once this has been established, the first activity, could be planting with seeds.

Natalie says the second activity, which again could be adapted for each level of the PAL Instrument, would be “to care for and tend to the plants, ensuring that they properly nourished”.

Thirdly, Natalie notes that when the flowers begin to come into bloom and the bees gather to pollinate them, “there’s an opportunity for art and craft”.

She explains, “Individuals might draw the bees and the plants or make craft models of them While this is probably a pursuit for those at a planned and exploratory level, it could also be adapted to suit those at a sensory and reflective level.”

Autumn activities

As the summer gives way to autumn, Natalie says that it’s the final activities that are likely to bring residents the most joy and reward. She says, “Activities range from collecting, drying and pressing the plants to gathering honey from the hive.”

While every care service needs to carry out a detailed and robust health and safety assessment before deciding to buy a hive, Natalie says that “in the right circumstances and with the right supervisory support, a bee colony has the potential to profoundly transform the activities”.

Co-productive benefits

She explains, “A bee hive has co-productive benefits. Why? Because a care service is likely to seek help from the local bee keeping society when it comes to collecting the honey. It therefore presents an opportunity for individuals to meet new people and bond as a community. Secondly, it opens the door to a host of new activities, which cover the full spectrum of cognitive ability. For instance, when the honey is gathered it can be put into containers and those jars labelled. With some assistance, these tasks could be performed by individuals at both an exploratory and even a sensory level, while labelling the jars might engage residents at a planned level with a passion for art.”

Activities reach their conclusion, Natalie says, in late September or early October, when a care service “might host a harvest market enabling residents to sell pots of honey, beeswax candles, lip balm and artwork. The money raised provides funds for seeds to start the cycle all over again next year”.

Perhaps this serves to demonstrate the great power of activities that are set to the rhythms of the natural world. These holistic pursuits have a calming and soothing effect on all of us and provide spiritual nourishment. On ‘Don’t Step on a Bee Day’ more than any other, this is something that we should saviour.

The NAPA Activity Calendar can be accessed by subscribing to NAPA Newsletters. NAPA – Sign Up here to stay in touch 

To find out more about QCS, contact our compliance advisors on 0333-405-3333 or email [email protected]? Alternatively, if you’re seeking a new challenge, QCS is hiring. For list of current vacancies, click here.


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