Easy and Creative Ways To Fill The Downtime at Assisted Living Facilities

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Easy and Creative Ways To Fill The Downtime at Assisted Living Facilities

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Summary: In response to a note we received from a concerned daughter that her dad’s facility had very little in the way of activities, or things for the residents to do, we’d like to offer a few easy and creative ways that we’ve commonly seen at facilities that we have visited to keep residents engaged, busy and happy, even during ‘downtime’ at the facility or home.

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 themselves.

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 the residents.”

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.

senior and meal preparation

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, House Pet for facility activitiesmundane activities of the facility, as their health or conditions allow.

House Pet for facility activities

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!

Seniors playing games

Responses to this article (or, make a comment):

William Wrote:

Sometimes downtime is a good thing in and of itself. Just like kids, seniors who are overscheduled or over stimulated can become anxious.

18 June 2015 at 8:44 am

Natasha Wrote:

Even something old-school like dominoes can fill time for quite a while. You don’t even really need to know how to play – even just stacking them or making a line of dominoes to then push over can be fun for residents.

13 February 2013 at 8.26 am