Making a splash

Effie, 93, feels young again thanks to the Go for Gold Challenge Swimming Project, which has transformed the lives of residents from five Perth & Kinross care homes

Euphemia Morrison, known as Effie, said she could swim from the age of three…and 90 years later she is still able to, thanks to the Go for Gold Challenge Swimming Project.

Effie_PKAN-swimming-project_chm57She was involved in the pilot project last November to look at the feasibility of offering activities at Perth Leisure Pool to local care home residents. Organisers were amazed when the frail 93-year-old took to the pool like a proverbial fish to water.

Effie said: ”My father taught me to swim when I was very young and I’ve always loved it. When I got older and had to be looked after in a home, I thought that was the end of it, so that’s why I was so excited when they started the swimming programme.”

She may be frail and need a walking frame to help her get around but once Effie’s in the water there is no stopping her – she regularly completes five to six lengths during the 30-minute session and emerges from the water reinvigorated with a wonderful grin. She’s not the only one to enjoy the swimming programme that initially started as a five-week pilot and involved eight residents from five Perth & Kinross care homes.

One disabled resident, who can’t walk, said: “When I’m in the water I feel like I am flying – I can move around freely, its exhilarating”.

Effie_PKAN-swimming-project_chm64Another lady, who was recently registered blind and was very low in mood, was unsettled at first when entering the pool, but commented afterwards on how relaxed she felt in the water. The care home reported that they noticed a significant improvement in her mood, outlook on life and her mobility – and she talks non-stop about the swimming.

Carolyn Wilson, Falls Service Manager with NHS Tayside, co-ordinates a lot of activities aimed at getting residents more active across care homes, and was initially sceptical about the swimming project.

She said: “At first, I thought the logistics would be too much: organising transport from the care homes, training carers, getting a suitable time slot in the training pool, providing support if required to help dressing and undressing the residents, as well as all the health and safety issues about getting them in and out of the pool – it sounded like a nightmare!”

However, Carolyn was not alone in wanting to make the project a success. The council and care homes were keen to get involved and the Perth Leisure Pool wanted to make it work too.

Carolyn said: “It’s a great example of social care, health care and leisure services all coming together in a joined up way and it shows what you can achieve with a multi-partner project.”

Effie_PKAN-swimming-project_chm14

Effie and Carolyn are all smiles after swim

The project ticks many social care and health care boxes. Residents have the opportunity to take part in a meaningful activity which they previously enjoyed and can socialise with others in a community environment. Then there’s the physical and mental health benefits from exercise and the stimulation of interacting with others, plus the joy of having fun.

Effie was the swimming star of the pilot project, but she gave organisers a scare when she did not turn up for swimming sessions after the pilot. She had developed a throat problem that affected her eating and had to be transferred to a nursing home to get support. She has since recovered and is now a regular member of the weekly swimming programme, which meets every Tuesday from 1.30-2.30pm.

Commenting on being well enough to swim after her recovery, Effie said: ”I am just so happy. I now know I can go into the water and swim. I feel young again!”

A number of the care homes are run by the Balhousie Group, which has a dedicated Participation Partner, Cheryl Banks. She has also been involved in the pilot and subsequent swimming programme.

Cheryl said: “We learnt a lot from the pilot last year, so we know the pitfalls, but it just shows what is possible when everyone works together. As a care service, we have found this is a great activity for our residents, but it has also helped our carers too.

“They have not only built stronger relationships with the residents but also gained a lot of confidence as a result. It’s great at the end of the session when everyone goes for lunch at the café, because it’s a nice social event – even the pool staff come along to congratulate the residents on their efforts.”

Effie_PKAN-swimming-project_chm72

Effie and her carer Billy enjoy the pool together

The project would not be possible without the commitment of Karen Steel, Senior Activity Instructor, and her team at Perth Leisure Pool. Even though the facility is busy with school groups during the week, they have put aside an hour in the training pool for the swimming programme, supplying two swim assistants and two lifeguards, who operate the chair hoist to lower and lift the residents from the pool.

Karen, who also trained the carers to support the residents in the water, said: “It’s really exciting to be involved in this partnership and to develop our services for residents of care homes so they can enjoy these swimming activities.

“While they are in the water, the carers can also give residents gentle exercises to help with problems such as knees, hips or legs.

“We simply asked all the residents what they wanted to achieve from the activity and many of them just said they wanted to just feel what it was like to be in the water again… while Effie definitely wants to swim!”

And after a good half-hour of swimming, Effie’s eyes are sparkling and she said through a beaming grin: “That was really smashing – I feel so fit again!”

For more information on the Swimming Programme, contact Carolyn Wilson, email: carolynwilson@nhs.net or tel: 01738 473146