I recently received an email
from a concerned daughter who had just moved her dad away from
a local facility that was mistreating, and mis-medicating her
dad. Aside from the more serious issues she had with the facility,
she also described that, although there are a handful of scheduled
activities every month at the facility, for the most part, residents
just sit around, doing nothing. There was too much downtime
where the residents were largely ignored, and left to fend for
She wrote: "...the
facility does have a handful of activities but for the most
part, whenever I went to visit with my dad or take him for an
outing, all of the residents were just sitting in the large
community room doing nothing, very little interaction between
That's unfortunate, and largely
avoidable with a little creativity and open-mindedness.
Filling the downtime
at a facility can be easy, fun, and quite rewarding.
I've been to many facilities
to interview owners and administrators, or to do video tours
for our site. I've noticed, in my time doing this, that the
facilities where the residents seem the happiest are where they
are the busiest, or most engaged - even outside of the regularly
scheduled activities regimen.
This does not mean that the facilities
with the most complete and diverse activities schedules are
"the best" places for mom or dad. It doesn't mean
that a facility necessarily needs to have a full-time activities
director. What I've seen at the 'happiest' facilities is
an environment where the residents can actively take part in
the day-to-day, mundane
activities of the facility, as their health or conditions allow.
One striking example I have seen
at two different assisted living homes is where the residents
actively helped with each day's meal preparation. I'm not saying
that they were doing anything complex. It was the simple things,
like preparing a big bowl of green-beans, or peeling carrots,
or perhaps scooping cookie-dough onto a baking sheet.
When I saw residents who were
allowed to (and able to) participate in this way, they were
smiling, engaged, and almost beaming with a sense of pride and
purpose. I could tell that they were happy to be able to contribute,
and retain a sense of 'ownership' in their facility (or home).
I also have to believe that simple
activities such as peeling potatoes, or perhaps decorating cookies
have very real cognitive benefits, and also provides an invitation
for residents to be socially engaged with the staff, owners,
and fellow residents.
Another facility I visited (actually
a few of them) had a house pet. I was simply amazed at how much
of a positive distraction a well-behaved, gentle dog can be
for residents. At one home, they had a golden retriever that
would 'make the rounds' to the different residents, prompting
an unsolicited, unscheduled few moments of interaction, smiles,
and love. Even residents with dementia
or Alzheimer's would often times
perk up when the house furball came by for a visit.
Another home had a large aquarium/fish
tank in the middle of the common room. The brightly colored
fish, and wiggly, crawly creatures at the bottom provided more
stimulation, interest and conversation.
The last, common item that I
have seen at some of these 'happy' facilities is a gaming system,
like a Wii, or similar. Wii Sports, especially the bowling game,
is incredibly popular with kids and seniors alike. Even seniors
confined to a wheelchair can participate, and it is something
that can be done at any given time of the day, and without much
advance scheduling or participation.
It's incredibly satisfying
seeing senior residents smiling and acting like kids again!
Assisted Living Facilities or
Memory Care homes don't need to have a huge budget, or a full-time
activities person to keep residents active, stimulated and engaged
during all of their waking hours. Of course, a steady regimen
of scheduled outings, games, and fitness sessions are ideal.
However, for all of those down-times
in-between, a roll of cookie dough, a beloved house pet, or
a challenging 7/10 split on the virtual lanes will do wonders
to keep the morale, and the happy-meter up at any home or facility!
Join our Google+ Community & Discussion Group!