By Sophie Okolo


Despite my dislike for bingo being the default activity in most senior living communities, some might argue that it at least gets residents to socialize and make new friends. Research has also shown that bingo has a lot more value than just fun and leisure. But what about residents with dementia, and those living in our memory care communities?

Not All Activities Are Created Equal

From my own past experience as a wellness assistant and volunteer, it was easy to plan or come up with new activities in both independent and assisted living communities. While it should be the same for all residents, those with memory loss often pose a challenge for staff, so coming up with a unique strategy helped plan successful activities. It was all about using any of the five senses, or should I say, the five gifts we possess!

It’s Time to Think Outside the Box 

The gift of sound: We can do more than playing songs on a TV system, watching movies, or letting residents sing along. From playing audiobooks and throwing DIY concerts, to each resident having their own headphones, research has shown that listening to or singing songs can provide emotional and behavioral benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Don’t forget to play music from their generation, especially for residents with mid- to late-stage dementia.

The gift of touch: Hand massages, beauty salon services, cuddly toys, and creating a culture of touch are just a few examples of things you can do to engage residents with dementia. Of course, physical boundaries must exist, and residents who don’t like to be touched must be respected.

The gift of sight: Seeing beautiful items in spaces can not only help our mood, but it can also improve our senses. So when it comes to memory care communities, the environment can be improved. How about decorating with murals and wallpapers in various colors to transform the space? If hospitals are starting to come up with design ideas, then our communities can do the same. Other ideas are letting residents look at beautiful magazines, paint pictures, or do arts and crafts.

The gift of taste and smell: When I worked in a memory care community in Savannah, Georgia, I loved how the CNAs would bake lovely treats in the kitchen for the residents, and the aromas filled the air. There’s a new trend of working with families to learn more about their loved ones, from their favorite treat to their cologne or perfume. Communities can also have scented flowers or essential oils to enhance smells.

Going Beyond Reminiscence Therapy

As we well know, reminiscence therapy is a treatment that uses all the senses — sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound — to help individuals with dementia. Studies find that it aims to improve well‐being and overall health. Even in those with late-stage dementia, and with careful planning, reminiscence therapy has many benefits. But it’s even better if this type of therapy is part of everyday life in communities.

Be the Change You Want to See In the World

We cannot continue doing the same thing, and it breaks my heart to walk into a memory care community or a nursing home and see residents not being engaged. It’s certainly not a staff problem, but a widespread community issue. Engagement activities should be more than just playing songs on a TV, and ALL residents should be engaged, and not just some.

While this raises the issue of staff retention and recruitment, senior living communities must train staff to engage every resident with dementia. Why is this important? Because some of these residents may be a loved one, a friend, or a dear colleague. It may even be one of us in the future.

Get ideas and inspiration from top life engagement experts during Foresight’s Evolve 2023! Register here for this virtual conference.