Research by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) found slower rates of memory decline in elderly Americans who reported active social lives. It’s clear then that activities must be an integral part of the services on offer at senior living facilities; but what about those residents who find themselves struggling to connect?
Be Supportive, Not Pushy
Senior living residents may experience insecurities and feelings of uncertainty – especially in new surroundings – that will only grow if they’re pushed too far too fast. Make sure residents are aware of upcoming activities and present them with numerous opportunities for participation, but joining in must ultimately be their own choice. Avoid mandatory attendance decrees and don’t make too big a deal when reluctant seniors opt to show up; embarrassing them with too much attention is often worse than not acknowledging them at all.
Pay Attention to Skill Levels
For some residents mastering a new skill or tackling a new craft is thrilling, but for others it just seems like an opportunity for failure or discomfort. Ensure your event calendar is full of activities that can make seniors with a wide range of abilities feel at ease. Whenever possible, offer classes such as yoga or quilting at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels or hold one class with modification suggestions made available so that everyone who wants to participate can.
Empower the People
Pride is a powerful thing, and few things instill pride faster than feeling like you have valuable knowledge or skills to share. Work to discover what interests distant or intentionally uninvolved residents and then suggest they lead a class, workshop, or discussion group on the subject. It can be anything from origami to a talk about music from a former first chair symphony violinist – the topic isn’t nearly as important as the feeling of ownership and dignity a person has when their proficiency is not only recognized, but respected.
Emphasize Casual Availability
Some people just never respond to organized activities. Respect their independence while still encouraging interaction by making activities available for their use whenever the mood strikes. Some options:
- Lay out binoculars and a guide to local birds
- Have an arts and crafts table stocked and ready
- Have a music corner with a guitar, piano, and songbooks filled with the classics
- Consider a knitting corner with yarn, needles, and patterns, or a sewing corner with a similar set up of supplies
- Install a row of personal computers (many companies will donate outdated models that still work great) and post simple step-by-step instructions on how to operate and access a variety of simple, yet interesting programs
- Set up a game room or even a small table or two with chess or checkers always at the ready
- Lay out communal puzzles where residents can stop by, place a piece or two, have a chat, and then move on as they wish
It’s almost impossible to resist the pull of a fun project when it’s right there for the taking, and by removing obstacles like set up and breakdown, it’s easier for even those most reticent residents to engage.