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Mind,body and soul

Coastal walks, dancing, music and singing, big bands, tea dances, sports events, fun on the farm, gala opera nights and wheelchair dancing – these are just some of the colourful components of the lifestyle program at the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

Across its four residential care services in Victoria, the provider has made great strides in enhancing the lives of its residents and community care clients.

“We acknowledge that social isolation and loneliness are serious problems for older Australians,” says Sandra Hills, general manager for aged and community care. “We have made a commitment to get residents engaged, or re-engaged, in their local communities. A large proportion of our client group is largely financially and socially disadvantaged and the lifestyle programs running in our facilities were formed based on research we’ve done which shows people who are financially disadvantaged are more at risk of social isolation.

“What we’re saying, and what we’re promoting through the programs, is that every resident has a right to engage in the community. We’re interested in addressing the emotional needs of the residents. We all want to feel important, loved, needed and useful. These programs build self-esteem,” says Hills.

One example of the Brotherhood’s lifestyle programs is the ‘Celebration of life’ series of events, spearheaded by Paul Brophy, manager of the Sambell Lodge facility.

In October 2005, Brophy approached nine other City of Yarra organisations including homeless centres and Indigenous and cultural specific hostels and nursing homes, with a view to collaborating on a far reaching lifestyle program.

Their first event, a day of games and sports at the local town hall in April 2006 was a huge success, with 140 residents taking part. The resulting media coverage sent a positive message “saying this is what the industry is doing at the grassroots level to meet the needs of residents”.

The following October, the second in the series of ‘Celebration of life’ events took place. This time the organisers held a tea dance, with music provided by a 27 piece big band, where residents and their families sang, danced and socialised.

Subsequent events have included a country and western dance, a carnival themed night, a dance of the wheelchairs, a day of fun on the farm, and more recently, a gala opera performance which 200 residents attended.

“You can’t beat this stuff,” Brophy says enthusiastically. “It brings together families, residents, volunteers. To see the residents taking part and singing, dancing, getting involved. The impact this has had on their lives is simply incredible. Families benefit too by getting to see mum or dad enjoying themselves.”

Meanwhile, over in Frankston and on the Mornington Peninsula, the Brotherhood’s social inclusion project manager Michael Hillier has just launched the provider’s new ‘Walk for wellness’ program.

The program aims to help residents stay active, enjoy the outdoors and appreciate the scenery of the Port Philip Bay.

The weekly walks – Rye Coastal walk and Mornington Esplanade walk –are designed to provide extra support for people who haven’t exercised for a long time and are ideal for people managing a chronic illness or disability.

“People’s motivation to join the walking group will be to improve their fitness. But as time goes on, their motivation to come back every week will be the relationships and friendships they make through the program,” says Hillier.

“ABS data shows people over 65 with moderate to severe disabilities spend 85 per cent of their time alone. That’s shocking. For us, the social aspect is so important – giving people the opportunity to engage and socialise.

“If you can improve residents’ emotional state that has a knock-on affect on their health. We want to assist people who may suffer from a chronic illness or are managing a disability to develop their self-confidence.”

The project has been developed in conjunction with the Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS) and the local health authority Ageing Well, Peninsula Health.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have those partnerships. The RDNS kindly offered to provide health aides, who have CPR and other medical training, to accompany the walkers.”

The local council has also set up benches along the route of the walks, every 200 meters, to provide rest stops for the residents. Similarly, the local health authority, Peninsula Health, provided assistance around devising policies and procedures.

“They also produced badges for the walkers and on the back is listed some of their medical information and contact details. Volunteers are also supplied with a sheet detailing emergency stop points, which are numbered, to help identify their location if they ever needed assistance from the ambulance or whatever.”

The RDNS registration form will be used to flag potential health issues their RN will advise walkers accordingly, or refer them to the GP if necessary.

Hillier says the benefits of programs like ‘Walking for wellness’ for residents are profound. “It’s incredible how quickly peoples’ health improves. There could be a group of ladies who when they start can do 400 metres maximum. Six months later they’re doing the whole walk.

“With programs like the walking for wellness, we know when people are healthier they enjoy a better quality of life,” says Hills.

“More broadly, policy makers and government need to place more emphasis on funding for lifestyle programs,” she says. “The areas where government currently puts funding are important and worthy, but people want other forms of care – like programs that cater to the emotional and social.”

Providers also need to consider new ways of thinking about resident care, Brophy says. “Sometimes I think with all the regulations we’re working under people are almost afraid to be creative. It is possible to make lifestyle programs like this happen, we just need to get up and do it.”

In that spirit, Brophy says he is happy to assist other providers interested in starting a lifestyle program. He can be contacted by emailing [email protected]

More details on these programs can be found by visiting www.bsl.org.au

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