AN UNDERUSED RESOURCE FOR CARE
Most of us know that those who need care can profoundly benefit from engaging with a community. As the World Health Organisation puts it:
Participating in leisure, social, cultural and spiritual activities in the community, as well as with the family, allows older people to continue to exercise their competence, to enjoy respect and esteem, and to maintain or establish supportive and caring relationships.
These benefits go well beyond wellbeing and mental health. For instance, it’s well-established that strong social relationships, including those within a community, contribute to a longer and healthier life. In fact, strong community engagement is a common factor in the so-called Blue Zones, inhabited by the longest-living people in the world.
You’d therefore expect that the community would be a central feature in UK care services, especially care in the home. After all, the majority of people in care often face the same types of challenges, and most would benefit from opportunities to engage with one or more communities.
And yet, often that’s not the reality. In our role as healthcare trainers and providers, what we see is that in the UK care system, the community still remains a vastly underused resource.
Why this is the case isn’t clear. Perhaps there’s a perception that traditional communities are in decline: with fewer of us knowing our neighbours, and drastic falls in high street shopping, it can sometimes feel as though communities are missing-in-action.
Yet scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find that the UK is full of vibrant communities. Collectively, they offer many thousands of opportunities for cared-for people. With just a little ingenuity and support, there are many communities in which cared-for people can actively participate – to the benefit of both parties.
Community-focused care using weight watchers
A quick example shows how this can work in practice:
Recently, in our own care service, one of our customers was struggling with a weight problem. Maintaining a healthy weight is a common issue for people in care, and it is important to tackle it wherever possible. Long-term obesity, for example, is associated with many adverse health outcomes, including reduced mobility, and an increased risk of dementia and diabetes.
In this case, an appointment had already been made with a dietician, but we wondered what help we could provide in the meantime.
Thinking proactively, our care worker made use of a local Weight Watcher’s class. By organising the sessions, their registration – and even providing transport – our cared-for person was able to:
- Receive immediate help with their weight issue
- Take part in a new activity
- Get ‘out and about’
- Reduce isolation
- Meet and talk to people experiencing similar problems
- Potentially develop a support network
- Engage with a community.
Of course, we’re not pretending that joining Weight Watchers was the single answer to our customer’s weight issue. But we hope it’s a simple illustration of how a community-focused approach can help address multiple problems that are often faced by people who need care.
Putting the community at the heart of care can also be tremendously empowering for cared-for people, allowing them to build their own support system that goes beyond the bubble of doctor, hospital, and care provider. In this way, it’s a perfect match for person-centered care which focuses on the individual’s needs.
A community-led approach to care is not a new idea, and the important influence that communities have on our health has long been recognised. But care providers that aspire to the very highest standards of care should always put these principles into practice, looking for creative ways to involve the community within the care process.
Retain Healthcare is a leading provider of outcome-focused in-home care and support for elderly and vulnerable patients in the South West. Retain also recruits healthcare workers and provides high quality healthcare training. For all enquiries, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.retainhealthcare.co.uk