By Enid IrvnigEnid Irving is an ‘Expert by Experience’ for Age UK. As such, she carries out work for the England inspection body, the Care Quality Commission
My job is to visit many care homes and talk to the residents at some length, reporting my findings to the CQC (Care Quality Commission) Inspectorate. The care homes I see are extremely varied, most are clean, warm and, on the whole, cheerful. Yet there is one thing missing in practically all of them: movement. Both men and women sit all day with an eye (but not much attention) on a massive TV screen. Sadly there are some who sit, uncommunicative, with heads resting upon their chests. The day is long.
I ask about exercise – even simple physical games — and usually I am told that there are some, but none that I or any of the colleagues I meet have ever witnessed. Occasionally a care-giver tells me that once a week they will organise a soft-ball throwing game, during which no one actually gets up from their chair. But even this is rare.
Often these care homes have lovely gardens, almost completely unused simply because these otherwise fairly healthy old people are losing the ability to walk! I find this deeply shocking. A twice-weekly session of movement — in the lounge, if need be – would certainly improve the happiness, not to say physical ability, of the residents.
Many have come into residential care from homes where they were already sitting all day long, so they might be resistant to such a plan. But if exercise were introduced as part of the general routine that everyone participated in, I see no difficulties. Energy, appetite and more vitality would follow. Self-reliance would grow and frequent falling might be overcome when confidence and balance were restored.
For many older people, a bugbear is serious constipation, brought on by eating and then sitting hunched up in an armchair all day. It follows that walking, and movement of any kind could alleviate this.
The cost of residential care is colossal — £1,000 a week is typical. Care-home owners would protest that a physio or exercise instructor, even hired only twice a week, would cost far too much for them to contemplate. I do sometimes wonder whether it actually suits the owners better to keep their residents passive and dependent.
I was recently invited to a planning consultation meeting, in which a local council was seeking the views of older people about a new care-home development in the area. The budget ran to millions. What facilities would we, as potential future residents, expect and want? I mildly suggested including a swimming pool. The response was a deafening silence. You can bet there will be a very large TV, though.