Taken from August 17th’s Tuesdays with Tom. Edited for length and clarity. Photo from Alejandro Garay on Unsplash
What first comes to mind when you think of activities in assisted living facilities? (Specifically Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly, AKA RCFE) It’s okay, you can say bingo. When we started in this business in the late 70s, the number one activity, especially in senior facilities, was bingo. Want to know what it is today? Bingo.
Bingo is one of the most, if not the most, popular activities in senior care facilities. There’s a reason for that, of course, but we’re not here to talk about only bingo. Activities have a lot of room for improvement. But how do you choose what to do when there are so many options?
1. The Classics
We all know seniors love bingo and that it’s good for their health, but as an assisted living administrator, it’s your job to know what other classic activities your residents might like. The first rule of thumb: talk to them. Ask them what they enjoy doing, or what they used to enjoy, and implement that.
Jigsaw puzzles are an excellent place to start. There’s ample research on the effects of puzzles on residents’ cognitive and functional abilities. Your residents can do them solo, or complete them in a group! Solving jigsaw puzzles together can be a great social activity, and it’s relatively low energy so the barrier for entry is small.
Start a monthly (or twice monthly) poker or bridge tournament! It’s a great way to get people together, and maybe even spark some of that competitive energy. Plus, who doesn’t love a classic card game?
2. Outdoor Activities
Who doesn’t love the great outdoors? You don’t have to venture into the wilderness to enjoy them. If you have a nice patio or deck, spruce it up a bit. Add pillows, and make sure there’s ample shading.
An outdoor activity doesn’t necessarily have to be an extremely active or adventurous one. Have residents who love to read? Let them soak up some vitamin-d while diving into a fresh novel.
Have sign-ups for a weekly outing. This can be something as simple as going to the library or a movie. If you live in a nice area, go on a scenic drive! If you live somewhere near a casino, some of your residents might enjoy that as well.
Outings can also be as simple as running errands. Do a big chunk of your residents often need to pick up things from your local mall? The grocery store? Maybe a few of them use the same pharmacy. Make it an outing! Simple activities are incredibly enriching and fun.
3. Get Creative
With residents, and especially with dementia residents, we need to know their history. Find out what they did in their life. Maybe they were a painter or played a musical instrument or two. If we find that out, even with their dementia it is probably something that they can still do, and probably do better.
For example, if somebody played the tuba in junior high school, they could probably still play that tuba. The muscle memory is still there. All you would have to do is find one for them.
It’s incredible when you look at people that are artists, and they can still paint. Their memory may be fading away, but that integral part of them is still there. We tend to take all of that stuff away from them because we’re afraid that maybe they’re going to eat the paint.
That hardly happens. Give them the paint. Let them flourish.
Crafts for the Facility
Seasonal décor is a must in any RCFE, so why not make it an activity for your residents? Host crafting/painting nights each month with a theme that suits the time of year. It’s a great way for residents to connect and with the care staff. Plus, lots of people love to flex their crafting muscles!
4. Let’s Get Physical, Physical!
Just because your resident has now moved into a Residential Care Facility for the Elderly does not mean that they no longer need physical activity. On the contrary. Physical activity in older adults (over 65) is proven to improve mood, lessen pain, etc.
Even though the Nintendo Wii is almost 16 years old and that the video game industry moves at a lightning-fast pace, the technology is still holding up to this day. Wii Sports is an excellent and engaging way to get your seniors moving!
Walking is a great example of a low-impact exercise. It’s actually one of the most underrated forms of physical activity. It’s a great way to get the blood flowing and to safely increase the heart rate. Plus, it does wonders for one’s mental health!
Not every resident will have functional use of their legs or will be able to sustain long periods of physical activity. Chair exercises are a great way to get everyone moving. For a more comprehensive overview of them, click here.
5. The Future of Activities
So what’s on the horizon for activities in your Residential Care Facility for the Elderly? One major contender is the virtual reality (VR) industry. VR has come a long way since its initial inception. Headsets are becoming more affordable, and much less likely to cause motion sickness!
In fact, a great application of VR technology is utilizing it with Google Earth. By doing so, if your resident remembers the address of a childhood home, you can virtually take them there. That can be an incredibly healing and soothing experience for your residents, especially those who have dementia.
6. The Bottom Line
If we know their life history, find out what gave them enjoyment and then provide that as an activity, we can improve their quality of life exponentially.
… Just maybe don’t get rid of bingo. It’s okay to add to it, though.