Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR)

In many aged care facilities social isolation among elderly residents has been an ongoing battle, especially during COVID, as restrictions and lockdowns prevented family and friends visiting loved ones for almost two years. Luckily for the residents of Eventide Lutheran Homes (ELH) in Hamilton, Victoria, the future is now looking decidedly more social.  

HEADING: New wheels for Eventide residents.

Thanks to a $10,000 Strengthening Rural Communities (SRC) grant supported by Ian Rollo Currie Foundation, ELH was able to purchase a golf buggy that has been assisting with the transport of residents with mobility and sight issues around the facility. This has been especially useful for building social connection among residents who previously may not have engaged with organised activities due to the difficulty of getting around.

The golf buggy has three seats available to move the residents around in a comfortable and protected way across the facility, including the gardens, the golf course, and any other location the residents wish to visit.

The purchase of the buggy has been an absolute success for not only the residents, but for the staff and volunteers as well. After 18 months of almost constant lockdowns, the volunteers and social activities staff have been very excited to see more activities in the facility and to see the enjoyment of the residents. Staff members have also been seen taking more ownership over projects and events within the facility.

In one instance, a resident was taken for a drive around a nearby golf course where he had previously played golf with a handicap of four for 50 years. He was visibly moved by the experience of visiting the golf course once again.

The buggy arrived at Eventide on the 8 November 2021 and was christened with a celebration morning tea and rides for residents outside. Unfortunately, the weather was not so kind, and the rides had to be cut short. But since then, the buggy has been moving people around the grounds with no issues.

“Apart from the obvious enjoyment of the residents it was exciting to see different staff members taking ownership and being part of the project. After 18 months of almost constant lockdown, none or very few volunteers and few social activities staff were very excited to have social activities in the facility and see the enjoyment of the residents. This had a positive effect on staff and they are busy planning events for the buggy.
Visitors who have been prevented from freely seeing their loved ones for almost 2 years have been excited and engaged in the project and will be able to take their loved ones for rides outside.”

Eventide Homes is a NFP organisation in Stawell, in the Northern Grampians Shire of Victoria. Founded in 1953, the organisation now offers 100 residential aged care places, from units for independent living and to 29 dementia specific beds. The 133 staff and 42 volunteers aspire to provide premium, innovative and stimulating accommodation and care.

Keeping fit and able in retirement is so important for maintaining a good quality of life. But staff realised that they needed to do more – physio and occupational therapy is provided to residents that required additional physical therapies, and gentle exercise sessions or walks in the park were on the cards but not particularly effective.

There was also the problem of falls – over a 17-month period, the organisation had seen an average of 22 reportable falls per month, and sadly, there was a fatality in 2018 due to a fall in a bathroom. Research suggests that residents of long-term aged care fall approximately three times more often than community dwellers. But frailty is preventable and treatable – with exercise. With the demand for residential aged care placements expected to treble by 2050, Eventide Homes wanted to implement best practise in falls prevention for their residents. They also knew that encouraging residents to be physically active and to build up their strength and balance would not only bring physical benefits, but also mental health benefits as well.

Citing research and population data, Eventide applied to the FRRR for their ‘Eventide Strength and Balance for Greater Mobility Project’ – to purchase fit for purpose strength and balance equipment specifically designed for aging individuals. One study concluded that a program of prescribed progressive resistance training plus balance exercises resulted in the rate of falls being reduced by 55%, and Eventide wanted to become an example of national best practise in developing a fitness and strength program for their residents. Back in 2019, they were successful in receiving a grant of $40,000 from FRRR’s larger leverage stream of Caring for Ageing Rural Australians (CARA). 

In the first months of 2020, the HUR equipment was purchased, set up, and staff trained in its use. Each resident participated in a one-hour session with an onsite physiotherapist and discussed goals to create an exercise program specific to them. Residents discussed things like being able to walk up the stairs at their children’s houses, being able to pick up objects from the floor and being able to walk without pain. Longer-term goals were broken down into smaller goals, which could be ticked-off over time, and the programs were documented in the system. With assistance from the team at HUR, Eventide staff implemented the smart touch system to automate each resident’s resistance training and monitor their sets and repetitions. This meant that clinicians could progressively increase resistance, and progress would be tracked through the system.

Sue Blakely, CEO, said they held an information session to get residents on board, and “to dispel some of the misconceptions about ageing and exercise.”

“We showed videos of 100-year-old powerlifters and residents in other homes who’ve increased their independence through strength, balance, and mobility training. We highlighted the different types of goals which people may have. After all, it may be more inspiring to be able to put on your own shoes, then pick up a kettlebell,” Sue said.

The equipment is even suitable for those residents who use wheel chairs and walking frames for mobility, as they can be assisted to sit to exercise and strengthen arms and legs.

This project will have great long term benefits into the future, as staff are able to support new residents to maintain their levels of strength, balance and fitness as they begin their residency in supported accommodation, rather than allow it to decline, which is so often the case when people enter aged care and become more sedentary.

Toni Williams, Projects & Marketing, Eventide Homes (Stawell) Inc. said “The launch of the new Eventide Homes ‘Gym’ was a hit with many residents already making the most of the new equipment. “
After just six weeks of the program, they found 8 out of 10 residents had improved their times ‘up and go’ score, by around 1 second on average. They have new residents enquiring about the program each week, and staff are excited about creating a culture of healthy movement.

“This grant and the new gym equipment has changed the fabric of our home. We intend to continue to make the most of it.”

Sue Blakely, CEO