9 July 2020

With older Australians at a higher risk during the pandemic, our Aged Care team in ACT turned challenge into opportunity to launch an online exercise group – Stay Active with Summit Health.

As the old saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention,” which took on a whole new meaning when our Aged Care services in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) faced the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. With it widely recognised that older Australians may be more susceptible to the virus than other parts of society, there are other impacts for some Aged Care clients, including social isolation and reduced strength.

“I started to consider the risks of what this situation could mean for our Aged Care clients over the next 6-12 months, particularly in relation to less physical activity and potential for more falls,” says Life Without Barriers’ Aged Care Operations Manager for ACT, Ric Cabrita. “Given many people would be in isolation and seeing less daylight and getting less Vitamin D, I wanted to be proactive in ensuring our clients could still stay active from home.”

With that, Ric and the ACT team collaborated to come up with a way to transfer their usual face-to-face exercise classes for Aged Care clients, to a safe online platform. After much consulting and planning, the ACT team has since launched ‘Stay Active with Summit Health’ (SASH) Telewellness Exercise Classes.

Lead by a certified physiotherapist on the online video platform Zoom, the Telewellness classes allow clients to follow along from home while engaging with each other. Combining elements taught in all three of the usual face-to-face classes on offer, clients learn about gentle exercises, group walking and preventing slips, trips and falls.

Image: Physiotherapist leading the new Telewellness Exercise Classes.

“The online classes allow for people to feel safe in their own home while completing exercises at their leisure – either attending live classes when their schedule allows or watching recorded classes,” explains Ric. “But the benefits of these classes have been so much greater than supporting physical exercise – people are connecting, sharing recipes, chatting and making friends.”

Amazed by the immediate popularity of the classes, the national Aged Care team supported the ACT team to source 25 tablets to loan clients who did not have a computer to access the classes. Even more remarkable, the popularity of the classes has continued with almost 100% attendance since launching.

As one class member, Judith said, “I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to participate in this program in my own home. Our instructor is delightful which makes the program more enjoyable. This has been a great initiative to help us.” Similarly, fellow group member Cheryl noted that “my pain levels have improved significantly, and I don’t need to take painkillers now (a big plus) I feel more confident about going out now.” Echoing these sentiments, Anne shared that the online exercises have been vital in her recovery from surgery in early March. “Though initially I could not do all the exercises, I am pleased to report I am now able to do them all and my balance and overall strength and fitness have improved greatly,” Anne added.

What started as a simple idea to continue Aged Care supports throughout the pandemic, the Telewellness classes have proved to be an enormously popular option for service delivery in future. It has also opened the door to new ways of improving online classes, with the Aged Care team also developing printed workbooks to help clients track their progress and show loved ones, or even follow along without internet access.

Image: Print packs with the new Telewellness Exercise Classes.

“From a little local idea, we have many clients who are realising quantifiable health benefits,” adds Ric. “We’ve also been able to tailor the classes for people who are participating, adding in the print workbooks and making telephone access an option for people without internet.” With the classes delivered online, they are available to all people who receive services from Life Without Barriers, as well as the wider community.

For more information about how the classes operate and how to access them, contact the ACT office on (02) 6213 1600. The Telewellness Exercise Classes are an excellent example of innovation, imaginative and responsiveness in action – well done to Ric and ACT Aged Care.

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