Chimpanzees work best in groups of 30, but do we?

The habits of the chimpanzee may not be the usual topic for a talk on activities for older people, but you can always rely on Sylvie Silver to check we’re awake and concentrating. The Director of NAPA, the National Association for Providers of Activities for Older People, gave a fascinating talk at the Showcase for Social Care event in Brighton on 13th March, which clearly forced a large part of the audience to re-think some of their ideas.

Sylvie’s comment about the chimpanzees was in relation to research undertaken on various species of animal as to the size of group in which they function best. And yes, that includes humans, and the answer for us is… 4. So why, Sylvie asked, do we insist that care home residents will be happiest when herded into the lounge and forced to take part in some group activity in which they have never shown a previous interest? Of course she was not saying it would never be an appropriate thing to do, but it certainly made me re-adjust my sense that residents being left in their own room is a failure on the part of the care home. Not at all. Would we not all choose to remain within our own space, our own possessions around us, for most of the time?

Which leads on to another of Sylvie’s points, the importance of treating a resident’s room as their home (which happens to be one of the topics in our set of daily prompt posters). She mentioned a home which had fitted door knockers on each resident’s bedroom door, to reinforce the idea that one was going in to a person’s home. I love that idea, though I can see it wouldn’t work in every environment or for every individual.

And of course it’s the fact that every person has different needs that was at the heart of Sylvie’s talk. Where one person can get delight just watching clowds drift by, she reminded us, another would find sky gazing tedious and nonsensical. The activities board on the wall has its place, but a person’s ‘activities’ is everything they do from morning ’til night.

Thanks, Sylvie, for an excellent talk.

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