To Improve Everyday Function Social Activities

by Regina Dessausure
Activity Director
Southern Hills Nursing and Rehabilitation

There are 1,440 minutes in a day. If you subtract the time you spend working, commuting, eating, care giving, and sleeping, and you are left with several hundred minutes to engage in other activities.

When activity directors provide tools that empower residents to engage on their own initiative, they create a greater sense of ownership, fostering participation without forcing it, and encourage activity without dictating it.

social activitiesMost of us find ways to fill that time to the point where we crave more minutes in the day.  However, in a nursing facility, the equation changes dramatically.  The residents spend less time preparing meals, working, maintaining a home, and caring for family members. All that downtime can be a challenge to fill, especially for people with reduced mobility and cognitive function.

The directive to fill the days with meaningful, enjoyable activities often comes from upper-level management who want a calendar brimming with events and enrichment opportunities that they can share with prospective residents. There is nothing wrong with this, but it’s important to remember that quantity does not always equal quality. Some residents regularly engage in activities on their own, an optimal thing even though it’s not reflected on public calendars. Still, it’s the role of the activity staff to foster several diverse opportunities for community-wide engagement each day. But when you’re talking about residents of all ages, all backgrounds, varied interests, and varied abilities, the task is far from simple.

So, let’s think about the word “activities” itself.  When you hear it in the context of an assisted living community or nursing facility you probably think of bingo, trivia, holiday celebrations, or music programs. However, a morning walk, having a conversation, getting dressed, going to lunch, or feeding the community pets are all activities too, even if they are not on the calendar. There are plenty of ways a resident can engage in daily activities.

These daily activities do not always have to be completed in the community’s dedicated activity space—or with other residents—to count as formal activities. Sometimes, the role of an activity is simply to provide residents with resources or supplies that foster independent activities.

social activitiesIt may seem that the time, money, and energy needed to furnish these opportunities could be better spent on activities that get more people involved, but high numbers of participants should not be the sole measurement for defining activity success. Residents may end up inviting a friend to join them in the library to work on a puzzle together, or to have coffee and talk about current events before breakfast. These kinds of organically occurring activities are equally important and just as much of a victory as filling an auditorium for a guest lecture or concert.

Intergenerational programs are often well-attended events, perhaps because elders enjoy the breath of fresh air that young people can bring. Life enrichment directors, social programmers—whatever name is used— most senior care communities have a limited number of these professionals who are tasked with keeping residents busy.

Out of all these things, engagements and activities programming appears to have the biggest influence on many residents each and every day.