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Turmoil has certainly visited the world over the last year and it has thrown systems that have been in place for years wide open and exposed areas that are working and areas that are in need of massive social change. One of these areas is in the care of our elderly. Activity Directors have been shifted into the forefront of this pandemic within the walls of your facilities. Your importance in maintaining peace and stability in the lives of those you serve has never been more evident as you are each being called upon to perform tasks that you would have never thought possible only a few months ago. The flip side to upheaval is the renewed ability to put the pieces back together in a better way. I am sure you have thought of many areas over the years that could be improved upon or had many ideas of things that could be introduced that would be game changers. I think now is the time for us to all come together as a profession and start working towards some of these changes for the betterment of all. In light of this shared mission, I wish to dedicate today's Activity Corner to looking at some of the ways we can move in that direction as a team of loving individual's working on improving the industry.

NOTE: Some of these ideas will not be possible to implement in the current situation we find ourselves in. However, these are ideas that can be worked towards over time and perhaps the planning and groundwork can be laid now.
Be the Change...
Activities are so much more than just activities. The way we spend our time determines the thoughts we have, the feeling we feel, the strength of our immune system, our overall longevity and the direction of our energy. What could be more important then that? There are many activities that you universally offer that are pertinent to your communities, such as faith-based activities and crowd pleasers, such as BINGO and trivia. However, you can dig even deeper and insert activities that can truly inspire and transform the inner and outer world of your residents. These activities may share some universal threads, but in order to uncover your specific direction you must include your residents in the discovery process and then build programming around it. Some areas that are proven to enhance the lives of all people, regardless of age, are:
  • Family
  • Health
  • Faith
  • Nature
  • Community
  • Personal Sense of Responsibility
Let us look at these in turn to get a better idea of how you can enhance them through your strategic activity planning.
Ask anyone with any level of true life experience what matters most and you will undoubtedly here family at the top of the list. These are our people, our tribe. Without them all the money, success or materialism in the world means nothing. How can we bring family into the picture more? We must appeal to the residents' family members by creating programs that entices them to make time for it. We need to create something that brings value to both the resident and the family. The resident's family members are extremely busy and involved in the busyness of middle age and this is somewhere we can help. Here are some ideas to get you going:

Family Volunteer Day- Bring the kids and teach them the importance of volunteer work. Share stories or videos of the difference that can be made. Offer a certificate of achievement to each participating member so that they can take pride in being of service.

Family Night- Host a fun monthly event that offers family activities. Plan movies, plays, carnivals, etc. Bring in a balloon animal artist or caricature artist... Something that offers excitement for the children. Focusing on the children is what will bring everyone together. It is a shared goal for the children to have fun.

Well Being Lectures- Invite experts in well being topics to come and speak with your residents and family members. Choose a topic that you feel would be most helpful for your residents. Perhaps a lecture on brain health, forgiveness, preparing for death, loving communications, etc. Any area that would benefit both the residents and other participants. You want to generate open discussion. You could even have your Social Worker make some time to work with the families as a service. There can be many hidden resentments that could have built up throughout a lifetime that you may be able to facilitate a healing for. Achieving this would free your resident and their families.
A Healthy body feeds a healthy mind and vice versa. A snack laden with sugar in the morning could inadvertently lead to agitation in the afternoon. The body processes chemicals in ways that directly affect well being. This can be easily seen in new bodily systems, such as those of a child, but they are there for us all at any age. Health makes us feel better, which leads to more empowered thoughts and actions. Consider how unstoppable you may have felt when you attempted a healthy new program. The key, and the tricky part, is maintaining this routine. There are ways you can commit to revamping your program to focus on healthy body, healthy mind. Some ideas are:

Create a Wellness Program- Have your residents design and wellness program that commits to the well being of the entire facility. This may mean you all commit to healthy snacks during activities, that you offer a wellness associated activity 3 times a week, time spent in nature is incorporated weekly, invite different members of the community to start walking programs, host varied workout routines, discuss health issues, etc. There is so much that can be included with your dedication to making it a part of your planning.

Language- There is much that can be inferred to through use of language, accurate or not. Try and be hyper aware of the language you may be using when conversing with your residents. We all need to be told that we matter and to be encouraged to reach beyond what we believe is possible. If you believe in your residents strong enough and long enough that will begin to change how they feel about themselves. Use encouragement with everything you do. Build activities around self-worth and love. Post affirmative message and visuals around the facility as constant reminders. A facility full of love will take off and create more outward and inward love then you can even imagine.
The world can get incredibly heavy if you believe you are meant to take it all on by yourself, this is where faith comes in. This is where strength is built, and comfort can be found. However, the traditional faith model that is mostly utilized in out facilities does not always address every individual's needs for faith. Faith comes in all shades of love and therefore your programming must reflect this level of inclusivity if it is meant to have an impact for all. For this reason, we must understand the faith of each of our residents and determine how to serve those needs. Some of our residents may not have faith or follow religion. They must be included as well. Aside from religious activities that involve different religions we can bring faith in by other means for those that are not served by that model. Some ideas include:

Positive Psychology- Introducing activities that are meant to boost positive psychology can increase faith in oneself and faith in the world. The Dalai Llama has been quoted as saying that his religion is happiness. This may resonate with some of your residents.

Faith in Oneself- Faith helps to explain the unknown and offers the idea that the strength to overcome is within. This can be done through many means, not just a specific doctrine. Try and create activities that are somewhat challenging so that the resident can build confidence in themselves. You could pair residents together and have them offer support to one another. You could have residents reminisce about past hardships and review how they were able to overcome them. There are many ways that faith in oneself can be nurtured. Consider what experiences you have had that showed you your strength and try to utilize your own personal lessons.
Nature can slow us down and connect us to the reality of life. Nothing is as serious as it seems, and nature reminds us of this. It literally grounds us and helps alleviate the cloudy thoughts floating around in our psyche. Notice how the birds live in the moment. Reflect upon the strength of the trees or the power of water falling from the sky and nourishing and cleansing all. Notice how the seemingly weaker plants (ie the grass) can bend without breaking through the most powerful of storms. A powerful way idea to consider this connection is:

Earthing- Earthing is simply placing your bare skin in contact with the energy of the Earth. This means you dig in the dirt with your hands or you place your bare feet on a patch of Earth. This contact facilitates an ion exchange that is incredibly important to the health of our body, minds and souls. Create an Earthing Zone outside of your facility that encourages contact with the Earth.
We all know that community involvement is key to keeping our resident's morale up. The tricky part is keeping the community as excited and passionate about this exchange as possible. Somehow you must find a way to keep your community programs fresh and alluring. Perhaps you can invite the community to share some of their hobbies, you could host a mentor program, or Adopt a Grandparent, you could host recycling drives or neighborhood watch groups or yard sales, etc. Maybe you can host a fundraiser that will provide a playground area on your facility's grounds that would be open to all the children in the surrounding community. There is a way to bring the two worlds together and the exciting part is using trial and error to get there. Set your intention and you will be shown the way that works best for who you serve.
Personal Sense of Responsibility
This is a biggie for us all. We all want to feel needed and useful. Incorporating ways for this to happen may be a little tricky in an environment where most needs are already provided for. Some ways that personal responsibility may be enhanced are:

Pets- Caring for a pet goes way beyond simply keeping busy. There is an exchange of love and gratitude between the two that is so healing. The pet could be a bird or fish tank. It could be a small coy pond or an outside cat. Check with your facility to see what is possible and then enlist your residents to help care for the pet/s.

Making a Difference- Your residents have the benefit of a long life well lived and can see the bigger picture better then most. Ask them for ways that the facility can be improved upon and encourage them to be a part of the solution. This may look like giving residents free space to air grievances, or weekly group counseling sessions. It might involve giving residents more freedom throughout their day or offering more snacking options. Allowing residents to vote on things such as weekly programming, or the meal one day a week, or the movie selected, etc. There are so many areas that could involve them and their opinions that would help them to feel personally responsible for the well being of every resident. You can even create an advocacy program where a resident helps to serve another resident that is less able to advocate for themselves. There are so many options.

What you do is so much more then host activities. You are directly responsible for the mental well being of each and every resident and that is no small task. But the good news is that you don't have to do it alone. We can all pull together, residents included, and change the world! We can all wake up with a renewed passion and common goals that transform the status quo. You are needed now more then ever, and we believe in you and the power you have within. We invite you to write us with your thoughts and ideas and passion! We want to be involved and help you, the game changers, as much as we possibly can. The world is wide open and ready, and we know you are too.
www.ActivityDirector.org - 1.888.238.0444

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