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Programming For Seniors: It’s Not Just About Your Great Grandmother’s Bingo!

By Scott L. Eckstein

Assisted Living Community.  To some, these words don’t sound or represent a place where people are active. But, actually, they are. From our standpoint, we look at activities as an opportunity to engage our residents in meaningful activities for mature adults.

When planning activities, there is a lot to consider. While there is always time for a good game of Wii Golf or Wii Bowling, we believe that the overall direction and purpose of an activity determines if it is successful. Programming for seniors that incorporates their past experiences from work or their personal lives can represent the most worthwhile activities. Seemingly juvenile activities can often be demeaning and cause frustration, not to mention they can upset family members who may already feel guilty about their loved one living in an assisted living community.

When we are programming for our residents with more advanced dementia, specific care is taken in providing them with appropriate and dignified activities that will engage them.

Tending to personal care/beauty needs, reading poetry or doing simple household chores like pouring a cup of coffee can all develop into a productive experience. The caregiver should be cognizant of details that can develop into a discussion or reminiscing opportunity. A recent conversation I had with a resident and a family member about the need to sign in and out of the community turned into a discussion about the resident being a retired pilot.  By using his background as a catalyst, we talked about the need for planning and informing others about our “plans.” The conversation gave the resident the chance to reminisce about his flying past and feel purposeful. This offered a positive moment that doubled as a confidence building effort and a reminiscing opportunity.

We all need and appreciate our own successes. I have found that remains constant with all residents particularly those with dementia. Finding occasions to have successes offers residents the feeling of being competent and useful. Though it may not be practical or reasonable for a resident with dementia to learn a new skill, the ability to refresh his ability or renew an old skill is there. The feeling of accomplishment when this occurs is very valuable in reinforcing confidence. Giving a sense of control to someone with memory loss is very worthwhile.

I am a very big proponent of intergenerational programming for seniors. It both engages the residents and enriches the lives of young people.  Just last week in our “memory care neighborhood,” we had some Boy Scouts visit. The Boy Scouts’s main purpose in coming was to teach a Spanish class to our residents. When they were done and had extra time, they told us that they would like to sweep our driveway. While this was a kind gesture, I felt their presence in the building would be put to better use in our Life’s Neighborhood, our place memory care.  The Scouts were initially hesitant but they ventured to be true to their motto, “To help other people at all times.”  So instead of sweeping for us, they played Pokeno with our residents. This interaction made their time with us even more valuable. They ended up staying past the time they originally designated because they were so engaged by the residents.

We should never forget that simply relaxing is also an appropriate activity.  The use of music or enjoying a view can provide seniors with simple down time we should all appreciate in our lives.

Real, engaging and purposeful activities are the key to a successful and meaningful program and it benefits all parties involved.