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Special report: The power of personalised leisure


Toni Wallwork

Diversional therapist Toni Wallwork leads the lesiure program at Living Care Clelland Lodge

Whether it is in large groups or one on one, those in the business tell Natasha Egan that leisure and recreation pursuits should be tailored for each individual.

Sterilising equipment, measuring ingredients and capping bottles are among the tasks performed by a group of six men who have the important job of brewing beer for social events at their aged care facility on the NSW South Coast.

The award-winning beer brewing club at Living Care Clelland Lodge in North Nowra started out brewing ginger beer three years ago then progressed to alcohol after forming a relationship with a local boutique microbrewery.

The foundation members of the Living Care Clelland Lodge brewing club enjoying the fruit of their labours.

The foundation members of the Living Care Clelland Lodge brewing club enjoying the fruit of their labours.

The club has its own label – The Old Blokes from Clelland Lodge – and both brews are served at the facility’s Thursday afternoon “happy hour,” an event open to all residents, their family and friends, staff and volunteers.

“The program has gone from strength to strength,” says Toni Wallwork, a diversional therapist who leads the facility’s leisure team and set up the program. The ginger beer won a prize at the local Nowra Show while Living Care picked up a Better Practice award in the resident lifestyle category for program.

“More important than the beer, which gives them a lot of satisfaction, is the friendships and the networks that have grown as a result of the program, which I can’t emphasise enough,” Wallwork tells AAA.

Wallwork, whose responsibilities include coming up with innovate leisure and recreational programs, says men can be overlooked in traditional female-oriented leisure programming.

This program aims to address that gap and is a good activity for older men who either like beer or like to brew beer as it’s creative and allows them to use their hands. “There’s also something in ginger beer that they remember from their childhood,” Wallwork says.

While primarily there to brew, the men, who generally don’t talk about their feelings, also have an opportunity to talk about their experiences in residential care including what annoys them and what they like, Wallwork says. “I have had comments from them saying that it is the one thing they participate in at the home.”

Keep it personal

Diversional therapists facilitate and coordinate leisure and recreational activities that are designed to support, challenge and enhance the psychological, spiritual, social, emotional and physical wellbeing of individuals, according to peak body Diversional Therapy Australia (DTA).

DTA advocates that leisure and recreational experiences should be person-centered and the right of all individuals.

How many programs a resident participates in is not the important factor, but rather that they have control over what they choose to do, says Lindl Webster, DTA’s vice president.

Webster, who is a diversional therapist and lifestyle coordinator at two Adventist Senior Living facilities in Cooranbong, NSW, won DTA’s National Award for Excellence last year for an intergenerational program known as the AVID Challenge involving the two facilities and the local high school that has been running for three years.

From left: Lindl Webster and DTA president Louise Absalom

From left: Lindl Webster and DTA president Louise Absalom

In the program, which will be the subject of a study by the University of NSW in the second half of 2015, residents are linked with a group of Year 8 students who are tasked with getting to know the resident.

Using skills learnt in technology subjects including woodwork, cooking, needle work, robotics and plastics, the group designs and builds something for the resident who receives it as a personalised gift at end of the challenge.

A portable timber knitting box with spools and hooks for knitting needles, an adjustable table with built-in fittings for the resident’s iPad, and a quilt designed with images from photographs are among some of the items students have made, she says.

Webster says that when coming up with leisure and recreational pursuits, fun and playfulness are important elements, but the most important ingredient in getting it right is ensuring it is person-centred.

“The evidence says that the best thing that you can do is you try to meet the residents’ individual needs and to factor in their interests and their preferences,” Webster tells AAA.

Determining a person’s likes and dislikes is an ongoing process that should be updated through regular formal assessment and as information is discovered or abilities change, she says.

Her assessment involves finding out how to make a resident’s day, and for some people that can be as simple as having a cappuccino or not wanting to wear certain clothes on certain days, Webster says.

“In this facility we look at how we can meet people’s needs in large groups, in small groups and one-on-one… The opportunity is there for everyone to do a bit of everything.”

Webster says they aim for innovative programs and offers concerts, bingo, French bowling, reading inspirational stories, guided meditation and relaxation, pet therapy and palliative care programs as some popular group pursuits.

Use the right staff

Having properly-trained and passionate staff is key, Webster says.

“There are many attributes that the right staff member may possess, such as a desire to help people, but certainly having a qualification, such as a degree in health science or recreation therapy, aids in delivery of optimum leisure services as you have a much broader understanding of key issues,” she says.

DTA advocates that only trained staff be given the responsibility of the leisure needs of people within residential and community aged care. Webster, who has a Bachelor of Health Science in leisure and health, explains that diversional therapists are behavioural specialists who are also trained in understanding dementia. They can also help with observing resident behaviours to assist capturing information for ACFI, she says.

Ideally, diversional therapists work as part of a multidisciplinary team, which looks at individual resident issues as a group with each using their particular expertise to assess a resident in a holistic way, says Webster.

“The result of not using a qualified person is often a lack of innovation and a lot of repetition of bigger programs,” she says.

Too many stock-standard weekly or monthly group-type activities that fail to take into account an individual’s needs, preferences and backgrounds is something the Arts Health Institute has encountered through its consulting work, its chief executive officer Dr Maggie Haertsch tells AAA.

The AHI’s focus is more on creating meaningful experiences than activities, says Haertsch, who adds that “bucket list” programs are an interesting innovation she has seen recently.

She says they like to interview residents about their idea and experiences of fun and one thing would they like to do. For some people it might be something big, such as going to their granddaughters’ wedding, but for others it might just be going outside and sitting in the sun, she says.

“It is all helping a person’s quality of life,” Haertsch says.

For more on implementing personalised leisure programs, don’t miss the Active Ageing Conference on 29 October in Sydney, being hosted by Australian Ageing Agenda. Visit the conference website



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2 Responses to Special report: The power of personalised leisure

  1. Anne Bowm August 28, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

    Well done what a great idea

  2. Jacki August 28, 2015 at 8:41 pm #

    Aged care services that are truly interested in providing a quality service to their customers will employ a qualified diversional therapist and support them in their role. Too many services are employing unqualified staff to facilitate the leisure based programs which shows a lack of respect for the people they are providing services for.

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