A change for the better
‘Enthusiasm for life' is helping isolated and depressed older people in Devon get out and about in their community. The aim is to improve people's health by helping them to make new friends and learn new skills.
The scheme highlights the principles advocated in NICE's guidance on behaviour change (‘Behaviour change' [NICE public health guidance 6]). These cover not only how to help people change but also, crucially, how to tackle the barriers to change that so many people face.
Over the last 5 years, over a thousand people have benefited from the project which is run by Upstream, a social enterprise that first started life as a voluntary organisation run by several local GPs in mid-Devon.
Today it has a contract with Devon Primary Care Trust (PCT) and Devon County Council. In addition, it is being rolled out across Devon by a consortium of three voluntary organisations (including Upstream) under the name ‘Time for life'. This expansion is funded by the Department of Health 'Partnerships for older people projects'.
The idea behind the scheme is simple: if people are being creative and sociable, they are likely to be happier. This, in turn, could reduce the use of anti-depressants and unnecessary GP visits.
“Many older people visiting the surgery for depression needed something to revive their interest and enthusiasm for life, motivate them to look after themselves better and reconnect with friends and the community,” explains Director Simon Goodenough, who has been leading Upstream since it began.
Under the project, trained mentors help people who have become isolated, for whatever reason, to regain their confidence and maintain their independence. These paid members of staff initially visit people at home to try and encourage them to get involved in a community activity.
“Sometimes mentors need to visit people two or three times to win their confidence. They encourage them to join in with existing community activities or help start up new social and creative groups for them to join, where none exist locally.
“Over the past 5 years we have had about 20 to 25 groups in mid-Devon - about seven have become self-sustaining,” he adds.
Activities range from dancing, Tai Chi, singing and music to felt-making, painting, book-making, glass painting, weaving, paper sculpture (pulpture) and a walking and library group.
Once a year, 40 to 50 people from different villages work separately and together to make something special. Last year it was a full length cloak made using a range of techniques (from weaving and sewing to the use of felt and applique).
These exhibits are displayed in GP surgeries, council offices and libraries across Devon.
In addition, many participants join together for an annual day trip. This has ranged from outings on a canal barge to a visit to Exeter Royal Albert Museum - where one of their exhibition pieces was being displayed.
The scheme, which has led to ‘clinically significant' improvements in participants' mental health and wellbeing as well as other health benefits, won the public health category of the NICE 2008 Shared Learning Award. This award, says Simon, has given Upstream real credibility among healthcare professionals, particularly GPs.
As he points out: “It has shown them that the voluntary sector can make a real difference to improving people's health and wellbeing and complement the work they do.”
For more on the NICE Shared Learning Awards see www.nice.org.uk/usingguidance/sharedlearningimplementingniceguidance/goodpracticeawards/good_practice_awards.jsp
Issued: 14 September 2009
This page was last updated: 10 May 2010