You just poured a ton of time and enthusiasm into planning what you believe is a terrific activity for your residents. Then hardly anybody shows up. Where did you go wrong? Check out these 8 tips for boosting activity participation at your nursing home:
Plan a series of activities centered around a theme.
Let’s say your theme is related to gardening. You might have a guest speaker one day, a trip to a garden center the next day, and a hands-on gardening project the following day. After residents participate in one activity, they look forward to what’s coming next.
Encourage all staff to promote activities.
Sometimes we tend to think that finding meaningful and enjoyable activities for our residents is solely the responsibility of the activities department. We feel like activities are something to do if there’s extra time left after our other work is finished.
Ideally, activities should be viewed as an automatic part of daily routines like making a bed or serving a meal. I think you’ll find that staff in other departments enjoy their jobs more, too, when they’re able to get involved in activities.
- Clearly communicate daily activity options to all staff so they can remind residents and encourage them to attend.
- During staff meetings, explain the many benefits of activity participation, and let each department know how they can help.
- Encourage staff to involve residents in spontaneous activities. This could be as simple as a maintenance person inviting a resident to come along when something is being repaired. Or a dietary staff member can lead residents in an impromptu song as they wait for a meal to be served.
- Provide easy access to information about the special interests and activity preferences of each resident.
- Consider other aspects of the resident’s schedule such as doctor visits, treatments, and rehab programs when planning activities. Communicate with other departments to assure the resident’s day goes smoothly.
Involve residents in brainstorming and planning.
Some activities are consistently enjoyable and meaningful to residents over the years, and you want to keep them on the schedule. I think we would have a mutiny if BINGO or chapel services were ever dropped at our nursing home. In addition, be sure you’re always coming up with new and creative activities to meet the needs of your current residents.
Visit with residents–both individually and in groups–and ask for their input. I guarantee you they’ll come up with fun ideas that never occurred to anyone else. This is also a good way to identify residents who share similar interests. Then you can set up special interest groups that meet weekly or monthly.
Don’t feel like every resident needs to attend every activity.
When my mom lived in a nursing home, she told me she was glad when the weekend arrived. Then the activity staff wasn’t there to pester her about going to group activities. It’s not that Mom didn’t like the activity staff or the other residents. Rather, there were some group activities that she thoroughly enjoyed. Mom simply enjoyed having quiet time for solitary activities in her room.
If a resident enjoys reading, doing crossword puzzles, listening to radio programs, working on craft projects, or other independent activities, that’s okay. Certainly, if it’s a change from their normal routine or we observe signs of isolation or depression, then this needs to be assessed. But some residents simply need more quiet time than others.
Invite residents to help with an activity.
Many residents feel honored if you request their expertise in planning or presenting an activity. For example, let’s say you have a resident who planted a large garden at home every year. Ask them for advice and help in planning and caring for your courtyard garden.
A resident who worked as a gym teacher may enjoy leading a morning exercise class. Invite the former librarian to recommend books for the childcare center and to read to the children on a regular basis. Be sure to express appreciation for the help your residents provide.
Allow residents time to adjust.
You’ll find some residents who dive right into the nursing home activities as soon as they arrive. But others might hesitate. Perhaps they feel like they won’t do a good enough job, or they won’t be able to keep up with the other residents. This is especially true when the illness that brought them there has limited their mobility or cognition.
Try inviting them to watch an activity at first, then gradually begin to participate as they are able. It also helps to pair them up with another resident who can provide encouragement and help them understand the activity.
Provide adaptive equipment as needed.
A resident might avoid an activity because they can’t hear or see well enough to actively participate. Or perhaps they’re embarrassed to attend an activity where food is served because their hands shake.
There’s an enormous array of adaptive devices that can help residents compensate for these deficits. A great resource is your rehab department where physical, occupational, and speech therapists can assess the situation and offer options.
Invite family members to participate.
Be sure family members feel welcome to join their loved ones at activities. Especially when a resident is new, this will help them feel more comfortable and promote interactions with other residents. I notice that family members not only help their own loved one during activities, but they usually also help and encourage other residents.
Provide a means of keeping family members aware of each month’s activities, and ask them for input as to other activity ideas. You might even find family members who are eager to come in and lead a particular group or help with activities on special occasions.
How do you encourage residents to participate in activities at your nursing home? I would love to see your ideas in the comment section!
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