A guest blog by Sarah Reed, ‘What does Activity mean?’

Written by Active Minds on Monday the 7th of July 2014.

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Activity means meaningful engagement in whatever form. It’s something we all need and crave, even if we’re unaware that we do, until it’s taken away. Meaningful engagement tells us that we are real and raises our self-esteem.

Activity means freedom to make choices and do things for ourselves. It shows us that we matter, raises our sense of wellbeing.

Just now, I’m thinking about waking up and getting up. (And that doesn’t mean I’m in bed asleep.) I’m thinking about my own activity when getting up on a weekday morning.

Never having been one for lying in, I like to get up and get on with the day. Generally, I’m immediately alert, although last year, travelling back and forth across the country facilitating REAL Communication workshops for carers, sometimes when I woke up anywhere, even at home, I struggled to make sense of where I was.

My legs slide out onto the floor from under the duvet without permission. Perhaps this automatic reaction is not so surprising – at a rough tally, I’ve got out of bed give or take 23,000 times over the years and have worked all my life.

I might creep out of the bedroom (partner usually still snoozing contentedly), make myself a cup of tea and await the miraculous caffeine-kick. Then I’m ready to have a shower, choose what I’ll wear, get dressed, get ready for the day.

This is freedom and independence as an activity: choosing what I want to do and when and how I want to – and being able to do it for myself. I don’t have wait to be helped, wait for a cup of tea, wait to be taken to the bathroom, to be dressed, wait for an activity to be brought to me, wait with little to do but stare into the middle-distance for much of the day, like many residents in care homes may be resigned to.

When I’m with my beloved conversation group of residents who live with dementia at a care home where I regularly work, I’d like to learn what their experience of waking up is like, but I know that by the time we’re chatting, they will already have forgotten. So instead, I encourage them to tell me their stories about things they did and saw and felt when they were young. These things they remember well – often with much humour.

I observe that when they are brought in by the carers, they often arrive sleepy and disconnected, even if it’s hours since they awoke. They invariably become more alert and engaged during our conversations.

Like us, they want to be actively engaged, to share their stories, with the freedom, space and time in which to do it – and a happy, encouraging listener. For any of us, this might be the most precious activity of them all.

As a result of long personal experience with many older people through the charity Contact the Elderly and her mother’s Alzheimer’s disease, Sarah Reed developed Many Happy Returns Chatterbox cards, which trigger easy, enjoyable conversation about everyday life in the 1940s and 1950s. You can buy them here.