By Sophie Okolo
Monday: Yoga and tai chi
Tuesday: Road trip
Wednesday: “Residents’ Choice” (NEW)
Thursday: Cooking workshops
Friday: Painting class
Saturday: Lively excursion
Sunday: Sunday brunch
It was how the new activity schedule was shaping up to be. Instead of doing what we usually did, a chance encounter some weeks earlier had changed everything.
I was visiting residents, something I usually did when I had some free time. But on this particular day, when I entered a resident’s room, he gestured for me to come in and asked if I could help him write a letter.
The letter took only five minutes, and then we chatted about other things. I asked if he needed help with anything else. While he just wanted that one task completed, he did mention other tasks he would like to do but did not have either the time or the ability.
It was my big “eureka” moment. What surprised me was how easy and small these tasks were.
After leaving his room, I began thinking about our interaction and, more importantly, what we needed to change about planning weekly activities.
Getting Out of Our Way
Activity professionals spend much time planning and organizing activities to increase resident engagement. There is nothing better than seeing residents participating in and enjoying various activities. And we know that activities reduce issues such as stress, depression, sleep, dementia, and anxiety.
But that day, I realized we needed to put ourselves in our residents’ shoes. What do they like? What would they choose to do? And the big question: What help would they want? And how can we help them?
While this thought process might seem complex, it helped transform our community because, ultimately, it was all about our residents. And since my experience was working specifically with those living in assisted living or memory care communities, it was critical to see how we could make them feel at home, because their spaces were smaller than apartments. And enjoying their spaces also helped their mood.
Getting Creative With the Schedule
Designating one day a week as Residents’ Choice was just the tip of the iceberg since we also had to decide what tasks residents wanted. That involved talking with them and selecting tasks like arranging their bookshelves, writing letters, organizing spaces, etc. Some residents preferred to talk and reminisce about past experiences and events, so that was another option. Ultimately it was their “activity time,” and they chose how they wanted to spend it.
For residents with cognitive impairment, activity professionals could work with families to learn more about their favorite pastimes, likes, and dislikes. This way, families could pick an activity for the community.
Getting Assistance From Volunteers
Volunteering is a game changer. It’s truly close to my heart because I started my activities journey as a volunteer for several senior living communities before becoming a wellness intern in graduate school and returning back to volunteering and coordinating after graduating. Volunteers can help support the work of activity professionals by visiting with residents longer than a staff member could or even assisting with planning innovative activity programming like Residents’ Choice.
While larger communities may require more planning to execute innovative activity programming, the goal is still to do something that centers around residents’ choice and autonomy.
Realizing that ALL of us are aging, not only older people, will change how we ourselves and our residents. More importantly, it will change how we create activities.
Planned activities are important, but activities also need to be at the personal level because residents are at the forefront of senior living.
Foresight has a virtual summit specifically aimed at helping life enrichment professionals grow and provide the best experiences for residents. Join us in July for this event designed just for you. Register NOW.