Exploring Worldwide Social Care: Ellie’s Journey to America

Friday 17 May 2024

A unique journey

Our Activities Lead at Cavendish Park Care Home, Ellie, recently embarked on an enriching journey to America to attend the National Association of Activity Professionals (NAAP) Conference. This remarkable experience provided Ellie with invaluable insights into global care practices and resident engagement strategies, which she eagerly shared with us upon her return.

The conference was a melting pot of knowledge, featuring captivating guest speakers, enlightening breakout sessions, and delightful banquets. Ellie seized the opportunity to connect with the 250 conference attendees who were care and activities workers from around the world, learning from their diverse experiences and approaches to caring for vulnerable populations. Ellie’s primary focus was to explore the diverse range of activities and care practices in the US, with a particular interest in memory care and resident involvement. She found the international panel to be a highlight of the conference, where she engaged with care professionals from countries like Japan, Australia, Canada and various states across the US.

International Panel at the conference.

As a member of the National Activity Providers Association (NAPA) APA (Activity Providers Advisory) group, Ellie was graciously offered this experience, and she eagerly accepted the opportunity to broaden her horizons. After a 9-hour flight followed by a layover in Miami, Ellie finally arrived in Minnesota, where the conference was held. Despite battling jet lag, Ellie wasted no time diving into the first day of the conference alongside Hilary, the executive director of NAPA, and Natalie, the Service Development Manager for NAPA.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Ellie’s experience was observing the differences in care practices from country to country. While the underlying drive to enhance residents’ lives remained consistent, Ellie noticed variations in resources and methods, tailored to each country’s unique culture and preferences. Despite these differences, the overarching goal of improving residents’ well-being remained steadfast. Ellie found it particularly intriguing to learn that American residents often enter care at an earlier age, primarily for accessibility and social engagement purposes. This stark contrast to the UK, where care is typically viewed as a last resort, provided Ellie with valuable insights into differences in attitudes towards care. Many American attendees asked Ellie about how the NHS works in the UK care environment, as this is something very different to private care in America.

Day 1 – A passion for care and diverse activities

The first speaker session featured Hilary and Natalie from NAPA. Being an APA group member, Ellie was already familiar with much of the content. However, she keenly observed the room, noting differences in care approaches between the UK and other international communities. From this session, Ellie produced two significant insights:

Social Prescribing

Ellie discovered the concept of social prescribing, a novel approach in the NHS where social workers and practitioners can prescribe socialisation to patients as a form of treatment. This includes activities that encourage social interaction and community engagement.

“Social Prescribing is something that really intrigued me as, as an activity provider, one of my main focuses is how activities and social engagement, whether that be in groups or on a one to one basis, can really enhance the wellbeing of an individual in a variety of ways. Something I have found through working in activities at Cavendish Park is that they can have a profound impact on someone. In my opinion it is just as important as the clinical care someone receives.” – Ellie

Ellie found that, of residents coming into the home who are towards the end of their life, simply being round larger groups of people and having meaningful social reaction improved their physical and emotional wellbeing. With the use of engagement and activities, often residents were still with the home even a year later. This is why Ellie believes social prescribing can make all the difference to those struggling in the community.

To learn more about Social Prescribing, click here! 

Reaction of Conference Attendees

During the NAPA session, Ellie observed an enthusiastic and surprising reaction from attendees. Many had never considered the innovative approaches to care work, that we currently champion in the UK, particularly with the assistance of NAPA. Hilary and Natalie encouraged Ellie to contribute APA questions to provoke further discussion. She posed inquiries such as, “How do you assess residents’ experiences with activities?” and “How do you involve families in activities?”

“I was very pleased to see attendees of the conference, keen to answer my questions and even if they didn’t have an answer straight away, I had attendees coming to me throughout the rest of the day to talk to me about how they approach care. One of the answers that stood out to me on how they get families involved was from an activity director. They told me about how they invite relatives to collaborate with them to help plan a party for the residents. I often think about ways that I can get residents involved in planning activities, but the idea of getting relatives involved in planning is something that really got my cogs turning. This is something that could be a great way to help relatives to connect more with their loved ones and feel like they still play a key role in caring for their loved ones.” – Ellie

NAPA talk, day 1 of the conference.

Following the NAPA session, there was a vendor spotlighting segment where attendees had the opportunity to explore various stalls featuring activity packs, music programs, and care resources. Inspired by what she saw, Ellie looks forward to bringing similar ideas back to the UK.

“Although it can be harder for the vendors in the US to reach the UK, a lot of them sparked me thinking about how I could replicate their offerings in the UK. One of the vendors who stood out to me was MEternally Favourite Things. They are a company who offer a range of products and kits that aid in making meaningful connections through reminiscence. I’m often looking at different ways and different products that I can utilise to enhance activity engagement and connections for not only our residents, but also our carers and relatives too. I would love to create my own kits for activities and reminiscence, such as themed memory boxes or personalised activity kits to suit the individual.” – Ellie

Following a satisfying lunch, the next speaker delved into the topic of innovative programming of care activities, emphasising holistic well-being. The session highlighted the importance of nurturing social, spiritual, physical, mental, and intellectual well-being to devise person-centered care strategies. Ellie found particular inspiration in the discussion on intellectual well-being, where the speaker suggested incorporating TED talks and inspiring documentaries into activity programs. This sparked an idea currently circulating at Cavendish Park Care Home: immersive experiences for residents.

“On our memory care community, we currently have our RemPod, a car simulator where residents can feel like they are once again driving a car. The idea of this immersive experience would be that the resident can drive there and then ‘once they have arrived’ they can use the VR headset and explore the place they have chosen to visit. We can then continue to add to this experience in many ways, whether that’s through different foods or drinks, or even different sensory items such as sand if they have chosen to go to the beach. This can be a great experience for the residents in so many ways, from taking them on trips down memory lane, helping them to feel connected to the past or virtually fulfilling a bucket list item of going somewhere they have always wanted to go, if we’re not able to take them there physically. I think it will be an incredible thing to enhance a resident’s wellbeing greatly.” – Ellie

The afternoon continued with Emily Johnson’s talk on “Passion, Purpose, and Impact: A Roadmap for Activity Professionals to Live Out Their Calling.” This session focused on unconventional ways to gain experience and advance in the care field, reigniting one’s passion for care and setting career goals. Ellie is truly passionate about her role as an activity provider, she found that this speaker really boosted her drive to continue to develop her career in the care sector, wanting to enhance the lives of older people everyday.

The final session of the day centred on diversional activity interventions for behavioural expressions. Attendees engaged in interactive discussions and case studies, exploring strategies to address the ways in which residents are expressing their needs. Overall, the afternoon sessions offered valuable insights and practical strategies for enhancing care activities and promoting resident well-being.

“The more I thought about my experiences from this speaker since coming home, the more I have thought about the things I can take from this into our own home. Every resident is unique and so will express their needs in their own unique way and so it important for me to be prepared and capable to create person centred approach to assisting them with an activity intervention to promote their wellbeing.” – Ellie

Day 2 – Memory Care Practice and PopCorn Connection

The second day of the NAAP conference brimmed with activities and enlightening sessions, igniting attendees’ creativity and fostering the exchange of innovative ideas.

Session 1: Attendees explored the utilisation of diverse resources in memory care, emphasising sustainability and resourcefulness.

“Activities can be big or small and you can really use everything, including the kitchen sink. As an AP you need to have the tools to use anything you have around you to be able to create meaningful and engaging activities and this session really sparked me to think about the things that I use each day to create new and exciting activities. Since returning to the UK we have gone through some of our resources to really try and make the most of them. Just the other day I brought a new activity into the home, a newspaper scavenger hunt, where teams were given a newspaper each and I then gave them something to find, with some being given in riddle form that they had to solve to find what they needed to look for. Such a simple activity that didn’t need expensive resources, just newspapers that we already had and it was so engaging, sparking a bit of healthy competition. It lead to some amazing conversations about the current affairs they discovered in the newspaper, that some may not have had an interest in otherwise.” – Ellie

Session 2: The room was filled with 8-10 posters where each one their was a mini talk. Attendees engaged in these mini talks around the room, sharing insights and innovative approaches. Notable presentations included the use of children’s storybooks to connect with individuals on memory care communities, their simplicity can often be more enjoyable and easy to follow, whilst sparking enjoyable memories of individuals childhoods, and igniting beautiful reminiscence sessions. They also touched upon another sustainability initiative, they found that the team and residents in the home received lots of old greeting cards, a small group in the home came up with the idea of making the cards into creative little gift tags to reuse on presents, adding a peronalised and sentimental touch. Ellie thought this was a wonderful activity idea, and is something she will be doing with the residents at Cavendish Park Care Home, in Evesham.

Session 3: The speaker discussed incorporating effective memory care practices into engagement, emphasising the importance of recognising residents’ abilities and providing purposeful activities, using 9 best practice techniques to help enhance our care tool belts when engaging with memory care residents. Attendees learned about the need for simplification and consistency in routines to support residents wellbeing and independence, empowering them to have more control over what they are doing as they are given the ability to be more in control of what they are doing and want to do. The simple strategy of telling the resident what you are going to do before you do it so they are prepared for the action can make all the difference to a resident and create a truly collaborative and trusting relationship between the carer and resident. 

The final speaker also spoke about “Popcorn Connection”, this is a method for individualised engagement. The activity provider doesn’t stay static, in one place: instead, they “pop” up to connect individually with residents throughout the engagement. This is the opposite of hosting activities in a “classroom” setting and so it can help you to create a more personalised and meaningful engagement with each individual, helping them to get the most out of the session, considering their individual needs such as visual impairments and field of vision, or even the way they find it best to communicate.

Evening Banquet at the NAPP conference.

This day of speakers was topped off by the international discussion panel, getting insight from around the world, as well as from Natalie and Hilary. Being able to see side by side comparison of the insights into how activity provision varies across the world was incredible and a true highlight of the conference.

“I had a front row seat to this panel and being able to see first hand that although there are differences in the way activity provision is carried out around the world you could really see the core values shared between the diverse range of attendees with their strive to improve residents wellbeing with Heart, compassion, dedication and Passion for supporting the older generation.” – Ellie

In the evening, all the guests gathered for a NAPP banquet, providing Ellie with the opportunity to engage in enlightening conversations with activity providers from around the globe. Following the banquet was an exciting raffle and a disco! One particularly intriguing revelation came from a discussion with a care home volunteer about the role of a music detective. This American volunteer was dedicated to curating personalised playlists for each resident and just so happened to be a resident himself. To accomplish this, they spent quality one-on-one time with other residents, discerning their musical preferences to craft these playlists discreetly. It was a heart-warming example of person-centred care and giving a resident purpose and the power of music in enhancing wellbeing.

Ellie’s Reflection

Ellie’s last day in America was packed with activity. She started with morning sessions at the NAAP conference, followed by an afternoon adventure to the mall of America, exploring one of the largest malls in the world that even housed a roller coaster. The next day it was time for Ellie to take the long trip back to the UK, but not before grabbing a quick bite of American fast food at the airport before boarding her flight.

Ellie Lucas, at the evening NAPP banquet.

As Ellie shares her learnings and experiences with our Majesticare Team, we are reminded of the importance of embracing diverse perspectives and approaches in providing exceptional care to our residents. Ellie’s journey serves as a testament to our commitment to continuous learning and innovation in the field of senior care.

Ellie’s Key Takeaways:

“Being able to take this adventure to the NAAP conference in America and having the opportunity to connect with a diverse range of APs was very enlightening. There are definitely a range of ideas, skills and tools that I will be bringing back to my practice in the UK from small tips and tricks such as the popcorn connection, to bigger activities that help relatives to feel more connected to their loved ones like inviting them to help plan a party for the residents. As time goes on since my trip to America I am finding every day that I am still absorbing the things that I discovered and the amazing ways that they can enhance the work that I do every day.

I feel truly lucky to have been able to have this experience and having the opportunity to constantly learn and grow is something that I am truly grateful for. I love my job and getting to enhance the lives of our residents is something that means so much to me and so being able to consistently develop and improve the way in which I can do that, particularly through things like gaining international insight is something I will never take for granted.

Activity provision is so important in enhancing our residents wellbeing and no matter whether you are on the activities team or another member of the home, it takes a true team, family, to support all aspects of a residents wellbeing, whether its simply taking time to have a chat or supporting that resident to continue to be themselves, we all have a vital role to play.”

Looking for a career in care?

If Ellie’s journey has sparked your interest and you’re eager to begin your career in care, we have fantastic opportunities waiting for you. Explore our diverse range of roles, complete with comprehensive training and clear career paths tailored to your aspirations. Take the first step towards a rewarding career today!

And if you’re already established in the care sector, why not consider the benefits and lifestyle within the Majesticare Family? With homes located in Somerset, Worcestershire, Bedfordshire, and a new addition soon to open in Buckinghamshire, there’s a perfect fit for you. Join our dedicated team and become part of something truly special.

Email us today at recruitment@majesticare.co.uk

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