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(Reuters Health) - Nursing home residents who have a range of activity options may be more likely to thrive than their peers who don't have as many choices of things to do, a Swedish study suggests.
"The key issue to support resident thriving seems to be that residents have a selection and variety in activities, and that the activities are meaningful to the residents," said study author Sabine Bjork of the University of Umea.
"If I was the daughter or spouse of a nursing home resident, I would be more interested in to what extent the care was person-centered and how staff work together with residents to facilitate social engagement and activities despite their physical and/or cognitive impairments,” Bjork added by email, “rather than the prevalence rate of physical activities in the nursing home."
For the study, Bjork and colleagues surveyed staff from 172 Swedish nursing homes with a total of 4,831 residents. They asked caregivers to assess individual residents' cognitive and functional abilities, engagement in activities and what's known as thriving - or quality of life and wellbeing.
Residents in the study were 86 years old on average, though they ranged from 47 to 107. Roughly two-thirds were female.
The most common everyday activities included receiving hugs and physical touch, talking to friends and relatives, talking to staff about issues unrelated to care and personal grooming, researchers report in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.
Some of the least common daily activities included going to the movies, participating in educational programs, visiting restaurants, doing everyday chores and playing games with others.
While gender, age and physical and mental health explained some of the variation in thriving among residents, some of the difference could also be associated with what residents did during the day, the study found.
Roughly 25 percent of the variation in thriving among residents could be explained by opportunities to engage in an activity program, dress nicely, spend time with someone the resident likes, engage in a hobby, participate in religious activities, have conversations with staff about topics unrelated to care, watch television, get exercise, go outside, play games, participate in celebrations and receive hugs or physical touch.
Out of all these things, engagement in activity programs appeared to have the biggest influence on thriving, followed by dressing well and spending time with someone the resident liked.
The study wasn't designed to prove how the availability of certain activities might influence thriving among nursing home residents.
Other limitations include the possibility that residents with greater functionality and better quality of life or wellbeing were able to participate in a wider variety of activities, the authors note. This means thriving might make more activities possible, rather than activities causing people to thrive.
Even so, the findings add to a body of research suggesting that physical and social activities can lead to improved health outcomes for nursing home residents, said Dr. XinQi Dong, associate director of the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
"Physical and social activities can be a conduit for nursing home residents to have a daily purpose to look forward to, potentially reducing a sense of psychological distress, which can lead to improved subjective wellbeing in their daily lives," Dong, who wasn't involved in the study, said by email.
When patients and families are choosing a nursing home, they should look at staffing levels and also ask how staff help residents engage in activities, Dong added. This may not be one-size-fits-all because residents can have a variety of health issues like dementia, physical disabilities, mental illness or an inability to manage self-care.
Ideally, families should look for nursing homes that track what activities residents join and what they enjoy, Bjork said.
"I would choose a nursing home that rigorously and systematically collects this type of information on their residents and actually incorporates this in the care," Bjork added.
SOURCE: bit.ly/2m4efGR Journal of Advanced Nursing, online February 23, 2017.