By Sophie Okolo

A few weeks ago, we celebrated National Activity Professionals Week. As an activities volunteer, I believe that celebrating the role activity professionals play in improving residents’ quality of life is a fantastic idea.

But as I look back on my years of volunteering, I find that activities are often misunderstood, especially because of the passive way I have seen leaders approach programming. Activities are often viewed as just another component of senior living. There’s not much understanding about why activity professionals really do it or why it truly matters.

Some think it is all about engagement and whatnot, but that’s not the essence of activity programming. Here are five things I wish executive directors understood about activities.

1. Activities Are Purposeful. 

Put yourself in the residents’ shoes. What would you want? How would activities impact you? For example, as residents get older and their workforce years are behind them, they may feel unproductive and experience a lack of purpose. Purposeful activities can reduce these issues.

A former teacher may benefit from tutoring children, while a former artist may benefit from painting. In fact, they may want to paint not only for themselves, but for their families or fellow residents.

2. Activities Are Innovative.

Do you know that creating a stimulating environment also involves engaging the senses? I think senior living should start doing that — planning community outings, creative-expressive programs, or even cognitively challenging games that stimulate the senses.

Even for people in memory care communities, encouraging activity programming in whatever capacity is critical. It is also essential that leaders get to know residents and what they do. After all, they are not just commodities in senior living.

3. Activities Increase One-On-One Connections.

When activity programming provides a holistic and person-directed approach to caring for residents, it is indeed a sight to behold. It goes beyond just another program or adding more activities. Instead residents are more engaged, are more social, and tend to enjoy the activity even more.

Isn’t that the goal of senior living, where residents are at the heart of the community? Making activities a priority not only helps increase rapport and friendship among residents, it also helps to transform the culture.

4. Activities Are Dynamic.

I have often discussed my own experiences as an activity and wellness assistant and volunteer for several communities. One experience I will always remember is helping residents write letters or lightly tidy up their spaces. Even as a volunteer, I always loved supporting residents with these simple activities because unlike group activities, it’s what they requested and needed at the moment.

In fact, this is why senior living NEEDS volunteers — because they can help support activity professionals in their work. From planning bingo games to throwing DIY concerts — from doing hand massages to decorating with murals and wallpapers — activities do not look the same.

5. We Can Change the Game.

As we take time to acknowledge the great work activity professionals do AND give them the credit deserved, it is important that executive directors understand and foster the true spirit of activities.

So the next time senior living recognizes activity professionals, I hope our leaders can also understand what activities really means and brings to residents and staff.

If you’re looking to get more inspiration as an executive director or an activities/engagment professional, we are now selling tickets to our third annual Evolve conference. Find out more HERE.