For caregivers caring for one person
If you are working with or caring for a single person you will know their passions and interests and be able to gear activities to suit this. Try to include mental, physical and social activities in each day.
For example, if the person is interested in music, play lots of music from their favorite genre or do a music quiz. You might do your physical exercises or dancing while playing a favorite tune.
It they are interested in geography or history, do quizzes, or sit down together and look in the atlas and see where you have been in life or where you would like to go. Reminisce and tell each other stories from long ago. You’ll be amazed how much you can learn about a person and their life just by giving them the time and opportunity to talk.
Hand massages are great for real one-on-one contact. The person you are with has your undivided attention and it is great passive exercise for hands and fingers. If you use their favorite hand cream the scent is familiar and may invoke memories. As an activity it is tactile, sensory, social and relaxing.
If you are a home caregiver, there is lots of opportunity in everyday tasks also. Helping with setting the table, food preparation, sorting washing etc., is exercise in its own way. More importantly, it makes people feel needed and useful. Some tasks may take a little longer than if you do them yourself, but it is worth it for the person you are caring for to feel included in daily life.
If the person you are caring for is able to get about, walking or in a wheelchair, some daily fresh air can only be good. A walk outside or a shopping trip breaks up the day.
If you are working with a group of older adults, planning can be a bit trickier.
In a residential facility each resident will have social and recreational care plan. Knowing the people's likes and dislikes will help you when planning your activities.
A typical group activity session is about 45 minutes to an hour. If you have a group of mixed ability and interests, it is a good idea to include a variety of activities to suit different interests in the group.
In a midmorning session, I would usually start with a physical activity such as a seated exercise routine for about 15 minutes followed by a mental exercise like a quiz or a word game. I would then read a poem, joke or a story with a little bit of reminiscing and chat woven into the activity. We usually wind down with some music of their choice or a sing-along. If any single activity is too long, some people are likely to lose interest and tune out.
In the afternoon the activity session might include a variety of target games or a game of bingo, which is still a very popular activity for many people.
Art and crafts is usually a longer activity.
I like to have people seated around tables to make this a nice social activity. Keeping the group size small enough that you have the time to give personal attention and guidance where it is needed is important. Also, being well prepared for arts and craft sessions will make them run more smoothly. Have all your paints, papers, brushes, aprons or other craft materials ready to go when the activity starts.
I find that the participants get very engrossed while painting or coloring and the activity can run for quite some time. Add a cup of tea and a bun and some nice background music to the session and you are usually on a winner.
It is a good idea to have board games, playing cards, jigsaws etc readily available for anyone to use. It will enable people to do activities with each other and it helps to foster relationships with other residents.
As I mentioned earlier for home caregivers about helping with daily chores around the house, this can of course equally apply to care facilities. Most people love to help and feel useful.
Facilitating spiritual beliefs is important.
Contact relevant spiritual leaders to see if they will visit or perform services in your facility. Some religious organizations stream their services so that they can be watched on TV if you are not able to get to them.
Often programming a successful activity session comes down to trial and error.
What works one week may not work the next, or even that afternoon, particularly when dealing with dementia. Having a backup plan if an activity falls flat is a good idea. Being in charge of activities is a job where you are most likely to have to adapt your day to the kind of day that the people you are caring for are experiencing. Having fun while doing activities is most important, it should not be a chore for the participants.
Remember that some people come into a residential facility having spent a lot of their time alone.
It can be daunting to suddenly be expected to mix with a lot of strangers. Give them time to adjust and if someone really doesn’t like to get involved with group sessions facilitate their interests. Do they like to read? Find books for them. Are they knitters or like to watch TV or listen to the radio? Can you persuade them to go for walks with you either outside or in the facility? Maybe do a short one-on-one exercise routine with them in their room or give them a nice hand massage?
Doing and planning meaningful activities can be difficult but is so rewarding when it all goes right. The aim is to see that the people you are caring for are happy and engaged in life.
And YOU have been part of making it happen!
See a sample one day Nursing home activity schedule below.