New research finds care home culture vital to boosting physical activity

Physical activity needs to be embedded into the culture of care homes in Scotland, according to new research by the University of Stirling.

Care About Walking

The ‘Sit Less Move More’ study surveyed and interviewed over 160 care home staff across the UK, to identify the barriers faced by residents to activity and how they could be overcome.

Backed by Paths for All, Perth and Kinross Health and Social Care Partnership and Life Changes Trust, the research found that a lack of time and a fear of falling were the main barriers to physical activity.

Now the academic team behind the study say that significant changes and a "whole-home" approach is needed to make physical activity part of all care home activities.

Dr Gibson, Lecturer in Dementia Studies & Head of Division of Dementia and Ageing at the Faculty of Social Sciences, said:

A sedentary lifestyle can result in losing the ability to balance, to rise from a chair, and to walk, as well as increasing the likelihood of falls when attempting to move. Yet how to ensure people with dementia in care homes have continuing access to activities that promote physical activity, or what the factors are in care homes that facilitate or present barriers to residents becoming more physically active, has seen relatively little research.

“We found a whole-home approach was needed to support residents to engage in physical activity and that it was vital that physical activity was encouraged as part of personal care, recreational preferences, social activities, and daily tasks – not just as ‘exercise’. Care homes need more resources, time and support to do that.”

As part of the research, the academic team looked at how care homes across the world address this problem and developed a set of key recommendations for governments, local authorities care home providers, staff and managers.

The recommendations include; appointing care home staff in a specific activities coordinator roles, introducing support for care home staff at all levels to be better skilled in order to encourage care home residents to be physically active, and create effective resources and knowledge exchange networks for care home staff regarding physical activity. 

Dr Gibson added: “Many of the recommendations highlighted in this report require significant changes in care home services, not least increasing resources from their current level.  But many elements are achievable with relatively minor changes.  Most importantly, many of our recommendations will give care homes the opportunity to build on their staff as their greatest resource available and will ultimately help them to provide care that is best for their residents.”

Carl Greenwood, Paths for All Senior Development Officer, said: “We are delighted to see the publication of this timely report on the importance of promoting physical activity in care homes and how care homes can foster a culture around everyday movement.

Our Dementia Friendly Walking team has been working with care home staff and residents for a number of years now to develop a range of support, training and resources, and we’ve seen first-hand the transformative effects that walking and physical activity can have for residents’ quality of life and health and wellbeing.

“The report also highlights the pivotal role that activity coordinators play in facilitating this positive culture around movement and physical activity, and the need to recognise and support this critical role, with training, resources and networking opportunities.

“We hope that this will be taken on board by care homes, health and social care providers and policy makers and lead to more discussion around how we can support more physical activity in our care homes.”

You can read the summary report here.