During the pandemic, many of us who have spent long periods at home will relate to the mixed feelings about going out and about again more.  At one level, we will be craving new adventures and experiences, but at another deeper level, we will have become used to the security of the smaller world of being at home.

It is not unusual for people living in care homes to say ‘No’ when offered an opportunity to go outside.  For similar reasons, the familiar chair and warmth of the inside might be hard to leave, and the fear of the unknown will mean that person is anxious about going out.  Another common reason for older adults to be nervous is that there might not be a bathroom or toilet nearby if needed urgently.   It is important for Recreation/Activity teams and care workers to understand this anxiety, so that they can provide reassurance that bathrooms are close by.

When providing incentives to just go into the garden, there are a range of simple ideas which can encourage people.  Martha, aged 88, was asked if she could fill the bird bath with water on a regular basis and however cold the weather, she went out every day with a watering can to do this important job.   George, who is a keen gardener enjoys sweeping leaves and helping prune the flowers, when invited by the care home gardener.    Another care home put up a basketball net on a wall in one of their garden areas and lots of the people living and working in the home became quite competitive about scoring goals in this.   This had the triple benefit of fresh air and lots of good physical stretches and laughter thrown in!   

Creating invitations and destinations

It is important to consider two important things when creating an engaging garden space – invitations to sit or do things and destinationswhich are inviting and interesting.  Invitations could include some garden equipment like a broom, watering can or trowel which are accessible to people.  Seats which invite people to sit, watch and chat like benches or companion or love seats which face each other can work well.  Destinations might include an area where people can watch a bird table, or a fish pond or even a view of a car park and people coming and going.  Other day services and homes have created vegetable allotments or sheds for doing jobs like potting plants or woodwork.  Another one of our Butterfly Homes in Nottinghamshire, UK have a wooden Tea Room in the garden, with pretty tablecloths, tea pot and cups to give the experience of going on a special outing, even it its only meters away from the main care home.  

Photo Credit: Thanks to Wren Hall Nursing Home

Whatever invitations or destinations you offer to people, it is the role of the care worker or recreation or activity team member to provide the right incentive to encourage someone to go out.  For one person, it might be the tea (or something stronger!) and cake, for someone else it might be the basketball net and for someone else it might be to ensure that the birds are being fed.  As always, knowledge of the individuals we support can make all the difference.

Consultant & Trainer
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