UC studies aged care participation outdoors

UC studies aged care participation outdoors

Kathleen O'Shea and Kristyn Comino

11 December 2013: A University of Canberra occupational therapist is collaborating with a Swedish researcher to find out how to measure residents’ outdoor participation in aged care facilities.

Associate professor of occupational therapy Alison Wicks is working with senior research fellow Ingeborg Nilsson of Umeå University, Sweden, who recently flew to Australia to help with the study.

Collaborating since 2010, their joint research focuses on how older people use their time, where they spend their time and how their time use relates to their health and wellbeing.

Alison and Ingeborg

University of Canberra’s Alison Wicks with Ingeborg Nilsson from Umeå University Sweden, who are working together on an aged care study. Photo: Kathleen O’Shea

“In this pilot study we are trialling different tools such as observation, activity logs, questionnaires and movement sensor devices to determine levels of outdoor participation in aged care facilities. We’re hoping to determine what the most effective tools are to use in a much bigger study,” Dr Nilsson said.

“We are also using interviews with staff, residents and families to find out some of the barriers to outdoor participation. So far, we have learnt that poor mobility limits the time spent outside for many residents.”

Dr Wicks added: “the ultimate goal of our research is to understand how we can promote more outdoor participation among older people living in aged care facilities. We want to enable residents to have access to the things they want to do outdoors, to improve their quality of life, their health and wellbeing.”

Their pilot study is being conducted at the Kalparrin Masonic Village in the ACT suburb of Holt. The large garden is a feature of this village, but Dr Wicks said the researchers have already observed that “it is not used very much by the residents”.

“When the village was built 20 years ago, most residents were aged 60-65 years and they were able to use the beautiful garden. But now, the average age of residents entering the village is 82, and the garden isn’t really suitable for people in this age group,” Dr Wicks explained.

“Spending time outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air is essential for everybody’s health and wellbeing. But often, once people move into an aged care facility they don’t get the optimum amount of outdoor exposure.”

The study, funded by the University’s Faculty of Health, hopes to attract future funding to run a larger scale project in Australia and in Sweden, allowing the researchers to compare the data.