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Students came together with residents and staff to celebrate Christmas

Students bring Yuletide merriment to care home

A group of Medicine students from the University of Exeter have organised a Christmas party to boost engagement with the arts for people living in a residential care home.

Residents and staff at Hummingbird Care home, in Taunton, came together with students from the University of Exeter Medical School to host a festive gathering. 

The party was the culmination of a student project to explore how arts and activities can enrich the lives of people who are at risk of being socially isolated. The students chose their own activity, encompassing trumpet playing, baking, physical activity and creative writing on life stories. 

It comes following University of Exeter Medical School research which concluded that better social interaction in care homes is linked to an increased quality of life for people with dementia. While Hummingbird Care pride themselves on their standards of social care, standards vary in residential homes across the country. Some residents experience as little as two minutes of social interaction a day.

recent study by Professor Clive Ballard suggested that increasing up to just an hour per week, combined with a programme of personalised care, can improve quality of life and reduce agitation for people with dementia living in care homes.

The student project is one of the Medical School’s Special Study Units which aim to develop core academic skills that are relevant to a clinical environment, including an introduction to research, critical thinking and written and verbal communication.

Cathy Hillman, who is leading the study unit, said: “This project enables Medicine students to discover how effective the arts can be in improving quality of life for those whose journey encounters dementia. Within our visits to Hummingbird, we have sought to explore baking, music, aerobics. We have really connected, through means of writing and conversation. Everyone in this project has learned from each other.” 

Resident Peter Cook, aged 80, who attended the party, said: “I think it’s great. Anything like this where you get to sing and dance and talk to people is a good thing. It’s all about interacting.” 

Medicine student Sara Khalid said the project would benefit the students’ future careers. “It’s all too easy for people to see older people as a burden, without getting to know the person, which is so important. Caring for older people is such a big issue in the NHS, and this project will be really valuable to us.” 

Stephanie Westlake, Manager of family-run Hummingbird Care, said: “We pride ourselves on our sense of family community, and we’re delighted to work with the students to raise awareness of the importance of social contact in care homes, and to enhance our residents’ interaction with the arts.”

Professor Ballard, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Dean of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Our research has found that social interaction, combined with a programme of personalised care, is incredibly important in care homes. It improves quality of life, reduces agitation and actually saves money. It’s great to see our students learning this first-hand and building on their empathy via this project.”

To find out more about dementia research at Exeter, visit:

Date: 21 December 2017