Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Creating Appropriate Activities for Seniors

The main purpose of my blog is to share my ideas and favorite resources with other people working with Seniors in the Engagement field- and hopefully this will become a two-way conversation!   I have not been able to find many sources specifically targeted to people working with older adults in Assisted Living, Independent Senior Communities or Memory Care Residences. 

The lack of information surprised me since the Senior market is the fastest growing segment of our population due to the Baby Boomer generation entering retirement age.  I find a lot of great blogs out there with lots of creative projects, but many of them are "kid centric" or  the projects are just too difficult to complete without assistance. 

Many times people ask me where I get my ideas for the art projects and other activities I provide for my Engagement classes.  Honestly, I'm constantly looking for good ideas- other people's blogs, websites and I am a big fan of Half Price Books here in Dallas.  Once I find a good project, I put my own twist on the ideas to make them appropriate for my students.  I am always trying out new projects- looking for ways to make them more "participant friendly" for my clientele.

A good portion of the arts and crafts projects I create for my students are adapted from crafts originally meant for children. Many adult crafts have to be simplified in order for older hands or Memory Care residents to be able to complete them with minimal assistance.  Even crafts appropriate for Independent Seniors require me to do a good amount of prep work so we can complete our projects within the designated 1- 1 1/2 hours class time.

When creating activities for Seniors who have Alzheimer's or dementia it is important to keep in mind that the activity needs to be fairly simple with easy-to-follow steps and directions.  I have found it best to complete projects within 30 minutes to an hour.  It seems that a 30-45 minute project is ideal for this segment of the Senior population because attention spans are short and occasionally these residents become agitated or confused- even physically combative when they are stressed. 

Many times I am able to do the same project with both Independent Seniors and Memory Care Residents by changing the project slightly.  But even with Independent Seniors, I have to consider hand strength and dexterity, hand/eye coordination- and sometimes even the ability to hear instructions clearly. 

For example, in January this year we put together Photo calendars and decorated them like scrapbook pages.

2011 Photo Calendars:
Photo Calendar Example

  • Independent Living residents were asked to bring their own pictures and were encouraged to customize each month with stickers and other embellishments and to note loved one's birthdays, seasonal holidays and important anniversaries or dates to remember.  
  • For my Memory Care students, I supplied  a variety of photos appropriate for each month, and limited the amount of personalization we would do.  I helped with some of the embellishment of the pages. Paricipants were encouraged to choose the photos they liked and glue them into the calendar- independently if possible.  I shared stories of where and when the pictures had been taken, and they really enjoyed browsing through and choosing their photos.

Even though we started with the same basic project,  everyone ended up with a totally unique finished piece that showed their individual personalities- that they could proudly share with family and friends.  And by making slight changes to the project, it was enjoyed by both Independent Seniors and Memory Care Residents alike.

Since budgets are very tight these days, I will share more on budgeting and the cost of projects in a future blog.

Till then- Stay Warm ( it's 19 degrees this afternoon in Dallas) and Stay Creative!


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