Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Recent Ezine Article

As an Activities Professional  working with Seniors living in Memory care residences, Assisted Living and Independent Living residences  I am always looking for age appropriate ideas and resources  to use when creating  unique projects for my students to enjoy.   I have not been able to find many sources specifically targeted to people working with older adults- especially older adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia living in Memory Care Residences - and that is why I have decided to share my process, projects and tutorials with other Activity Professionals and people interested in working with Elders.

The lack of information surprised me since the Senior market is the fastest growing segment of our population due to Baby Boomer s beginning to retire in large numbers.   And the Baby Boomers have already changed the Senior Care industry significantly because they are demanding better services for their aged parents.   The Boomer generation is expected to live longer, be active longer and have a better lifestyle than any retirees before them.  And they are going to expect engaging and interesting creative activities to participate in as they grow older and begin to need more assistance in their day to day lives.

As I have searched websites, blogs and books, I’ve found a lot of great information about childrens creative projects  and wonderful arts and crafts projects for adults as well-  but many adult focused projects are too difficult for Seniors to complete without  a lot of assistance- especially Seniors with Alzheimer’s or Dementia.   And since 1 out of every 8 Baby Boomers is expected to develop Alzheimer’s as they age, appropriate activities for this segment of the population is going to become ever more important in the future.

So how do you go about creating age appropriate projects suitable for students that are both interesting for Independent Seniors and can also be completed by Memory Care Residents as well?  

I suggest you create several versions of your project so the project is appropriate for different ability levels of your elder population.  This may just mean doing additional prep work- using pre-cut materials, templates or simplified designs for your Memory Care students.   A good portion of my art projects are adapted from crafts originally meant for children- but I only choose projects that look appropriate for adults.   Craft sticks, tempera paint and Elmer’s glue just won’t do!   When adapting adult crafts always consider making small changes so that less dexterous older hands or Memory Care residents will be able to complete them with minimal assistance.   

 For example:   I recently taught a class for Independent Seniors and we were making hand knotted fabric wreaths.  Although it seemed like a very simple project to me (I had pre-cut the fabric strip in advance-)and had completed it without any problems, many of my students tired quickly because they had severe arthritis in their hands and it was difficult for them to tie lots of knots.  My solution was a modified fabric wreath design where students had the choice of creating the tied knot wreath or a wrapped fabric wreath using the same fabric strips.  With this slight modification everyone was able to participate and create a nice looking wreath for their door.

A Few Rules of Thumb for creating projects for Memory Care Residents:

When creating activities for seniors who have Alzheimer's or dementia it is important to make sure the activity is simple with easy-to-follow steps and directions, but at the same time yields a nice looking final product that the student can be proud of.  

Projects should be completed within 30 minutes to an hour.  A 30-45 minute project is ideal for this segment of the Senior population because attention spans are short and occasionally residents can become agitated or confused- even physically combative when they are stressed. 

Don’t be too ambitious with your art project.  Allow each resident to complete their own project with as little assistance as possible.  If you are doing 90% of the work- the project was either not executed properly or not appropriate for the population.  

Always consider hand strength and dexterity, hand/eye coordination- and sometimes even the ability to hear instructions clearly when working with Seniors.  

Families like to see what their parents have been doing while they have been away-and they like to see that their loved one has been engaged and stimulated in mind and body- so make sure your residents go home with a completed project.

Next time we will talk more about the difference between projects for Assisted Living Residents and Independent Seniors.

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