In pursuit of happiness

The importance of mental wellbeing cannot be over-estimated, and Uniting AgeWell is constantly finding new ways to infuse a sense of purpose and joy into the lives of residents in aged care.

Uniting AgeWell has invested significantly to provide interactive equipment to help stimulate cognition and bring enjoyment and is also benefiting from partnerships with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and the Terrapin Theatre Company, as a founding partner of the Forever Young, puppetry in aged care project. However, maintaining the day-to-day momentum in the pursuit of happiness is driven by the lifestyle teams based at each residential facility.

A living well lifestyle

Living well is a holistic view of the lifestyle of residents and the team’s aim is to ensure that residents are socially included and connected; that they feel purposeful and busy. That they are happy – whatever happiness represents to them.

Lifestyle Manager Sharon Levey says while activities may look like good old (and new) fashioned fun, there’s a sound reason backed up by research and data, behind each and every one. “Whether it’s to stimulate cognitive awareness, or to build up physical core strength or even to break down barriers for a resident who may be feeling socially anxious, the activities are all tailored to suit these specific goals,” Sharon says. “We look at what residents can do, not what they can’t – and we tailor programs accordingly.”

The teams run a raft of programs, from bus outings to trivia quizzes, from bingo to armchair travel, to bringing in entertainers or going out to enjoy the theatre and cafes. They run art and cooking classes, there is a group taking armchair karate lessons. Multi-cultural themed days are held across the sites, not only to embrace diversity but to encourage residents to learn about other cultures and to reaffirm the pride that older residents of CALD backgrounds have for their countries of origin.

Activities for purpose

Being purposeful is important for mental wellbeing, and residents are encouraged to volunteer. A resident knits jumpers for penguins caught in oil slicks, others knit squares to make up blankets for stray kittens. Some help lead Anzac and other significant services, others grow veggies and tend to gardens at the facilities.

Some programs are more easily deliverable than others, and Sharon is constantly amazed at the planning and determination by staff to go above and beyond in trying to bring joy to the residents.

For example, Strath-Haven Community Lifestyle Coordinator Michaela Tho turned the living area at the facility into the interior of an aeroplane, and staff dressed up as flight attendants as they took residents on a delightful overseas virtual tour. She also organised a wedding dress fashion show, with models sashaying down the catwalk in bridal attire.

Then there’s Newnham Community Aldersgate Village Lifestyle Coordinator Eleanor Clinton’s determination to take a group of five residents from the Dementia Support unit for a walk on the East Beach off Launceston. This is the first time that high-needs residents with advanced dementia have been taken on an outing that involved more than just a scenic trip on the bus. And the residents’ joyful smiles were all the thanks that Eleanor needed.

Animals also bring huge joy, and a veritable Noah’s Ark of animals visit the residents – from alpacas to ferrets, from dogs and cats to lambs.

Remembering and enjoying birth cultures

Needs change and demographics evolve in aged care facilities. Recently, an Italian Club was started up at Preston Community to meet the needs of the growing number of Italian residents there. They have Italian entertainers, Italian newspapers are brought in, and the site is always delighted to employ staff of Italian backgrounds.

Sharon explains: “Often residents with dementia will revert back to speaking their mother tongue, and this can be challenging for staff who do not understand or speak this language. There is also the joy of connecting with others from similar backgrounds.”

Embracing technology

Sharon is also equally determined to have state-of-the-art tools to assist the lifestyle teams. She has succeeded in introducing expensive but very effective Tovertafels – interactive magic tables – in the residential sites, which stimulate cognition and afford a huge amount of fun. There are brain trainers at a number of the sites and iPads that residents can use to FaceTime with family and friends.

Transformative art, music and experiences

Uniting AgeWell and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO) have worked together for over five years, sharing a passion for music's transformative power, especially for people as they age. Members of the orchestra have performed pop-up concerts at our residential sites and concerts are live-streamed to Uniting AgeWell aged care facilities.e.

Uniting AgeWell is also the founding industry partner of Forever Young, a unique program created by the Terrapin Puppet Theatre using puppetry to enhance the health and wellbeing outcomes for people in aged care settings. It has already brought great joy to residents at five of our aged care facilities in Tasmania, and the residents themselves have been deeply involved in the co-design of the shows..

Sharon says being fluid and evolving with the times is important to meeting the needs of residents in aged care.

“Fast forward a handful of decades, and the residents will be loving listening to heavy metal music, or acid-house,” she jokes. “And that’s what it’s all about. We’re here to support them to live well.”

Read more about Uniting AgeWell’s approach to Mental Health and Wellbeing