Activity Directors' Tips for Creating Meaningful Senior Activities

Main Body Space

Dementia Activities
Participating in activities is not only good for younger people; it is also good for seniors. Inactivity can lead to more complications such as depression, high blood pressure and loneliness. For the activity director, the challenge is in finding the right activity for the patient or resident that she or she can enjoy safely. In choosing activities for the residents, it is important to make group activities more inclusive, healthy and safe for the participants. Some residents may just not be in the mood for the activity. You have to respect their views and let them skip an activity if they choose to.

In choosing activities for seniors, take into consider their own interests. What did the patient love when he/she was younger? They will most likely continue to enjoy the same activities. Some hobbies, especially sports or potentially dangerous activities, may need to be modified for the dementia patient to be able to participate. For example, if the patient loved to play Sunday afternoon football with his buddies, perhaps he would enjoy watching football on TV with his friends.

We all want to feel needed. This is no different for a dementia patient. Every activity they participate in doesn't have to be fun and games. The opportunity to be helpful can be very valuable. Simple chores like folding laundry, pairing socks, tearing lettuce for a salad, scooping cookie dough, and many others can all be done successfully by a dementia patient.

Start with the Individual

Luckily as we age, there is an ongoing assessment of our abilities so that our needs for help can be determined. Seniors are usually assessed on their ability to perform the activities of daily living These include dressing, eating independently, transferring from a bed to a chair, toileting (including being able to get oneself to the bathroom), and walking. The amount of help a person requires to perform any of these activities is a measure of the level of care that would be necessary in a facility. This information can also be used in designing appropriate activities for the seniors.

Get each resident to fill out a short questionnaire that can identify what they type of activities they use to enjoy. A sample questionnaire can be the following:

My friends call me . I lived in ; prior to that I lived in and . My favorite thing about home is . I am a (farmer, artist, fisherman, golfer). When I was young I used to love to . Some of my favorite things are . I am very good at and I am proud of . My favorite place to visit is . I like to read , and listen to . My favorite leisure pastime is . My favorite foods are . Three things I would like others to know about me are .
In designing your questionnaire, make it simple. The goal is to identify the types of activities the patient can enjoy, is safe and healthy and can be stimulating to the patient. You can also start by asking the following types of questions:

  • What did you used to enjoy doing?
  • What kind of physical activities did you enjoy?
  • Did you do any craft or handwork?
  • Do you enjoy being outdoors or are you more of an “indoor” person?
  • Do you enjoy reading? What do you read?
  • Have you been active in clubs or civic organizations?
  • Did you ever enjoy going to events like plays or ball games or garage sales?

Use this information to develop activities aimed at putting the elder’s past into his or her present. If your loved one or client lives in a senior care facility, it is up to you to ask the activity director there to give this kind of personal attention to every resident. Ask what kinds of activity classes are available, and ask the administrator to provide time away for the activity director to take courses that will enrich the activity program. Every resident in every assisted living community and every nursing home deserves to have interesting activities, mentally stimulating activities, and activities that relate to his or her past interests.

Here are some activities to get you started:

Self-Directed Activity Ideas

There are a number of self-directed activities that can take place within a nursing home. They can be informal arrangements between residents or a more structured program can be developed. Ideas include:

  • Celebrating birthdays – Organize parties including making cards, baking and decorating cakes.
  • Musical events – Sing-a-longs, mini shows or even guest events are always welcome.
  • Gardening – Gardening need not mean strenuous outside activities. Window gardening, small herb gardens planted in plant pots and hanging baskets are all accessible hobbies.

Activities Involving Volunteers

In addition to self-directed activities, other programs can be introduced that involve volunteers and other members of the community. Inviting outside community members into a nursing home is important and there are many willing volunteers who would like to participate in events and projects.

Interaction with Young People

Many residents of nursing homes have limited contact with young people. Perhaps the grandchildren live a long distance away or have their own busy lives and cannot visit. Consequently, many youngsters have limited contact with seniors. Encouraging schools, youth groups, young people´s church groups and other organizations to visit nursing homes offers multiple benefits to both demographics.
When young people visit nursing homes there are a number of activities that can take place. These include:

  • Telling of stories. This encompasses many different things. Of course, young people can read to residents of nursing homes. However, an interesting alternative would be for the seniors to tell their own story to the youngsters. Many children are fascinated by the history and are amazed that there was life before Gameboys and mp3 players. Therefore, hearing stories of life after a war, watching a television for the first time, the advances of technology and so on are eagerly received by children. Every person has a different story to share and these precious personal histories deserve retelling.
  • Crafts. While many residents of nursing homes make crafts for charities and good causes, another variation of this is for residents to teach youngsters how to knit or crochet. There is a huge resurgence in needlecrafts and yet many youngsters do not know how to knit or crochet and parents are often too busy to teach them. Offering an activity whereby residents teach youngsters crafts gives a huge amount of pleasure to both parties. Working with children is a stimulating and rewarding activity for residents.
  • Musical events. Youngsters will often be delighted to put on a show for residents. An alternative musical activity would be for residents to teach the children songs and tunes that were popular in the past. Again, this can be very rewarding and great fun to do.

Activities with Adult Volunteers

There are many activities that adult volunteers can run in nursing homes. The staff in nursing homes often welcome volunteers to run activity programs, as they are too busy with the day-to-day nursing aspects of operating the facility. Volunteers might be from a charitable organization, a local community group or simply individuals looking to get more involved.

Groups of volunteers can run different activities than individuals. For instance, a group of people can chaperone and organize day trips or outings, whereas individuals can offer more personal activities such as reading to people, personal shopping services, spa treatments, or simply be someone to talk to.

Taking part in an effective and enjoyable activity can be very rewarding for the resident. It is important for the activity director to find new opportunities for the residents to participate in different events, programs, outings and projects and implement them in a way that is safe for the residents.

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