Senior Living Activities 102

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 22 April 2010

In my previous post, Activities 101, I discussed some of the basics in planning activities for senior living community residents (come to think of it, many of these ideas/principles can be applied to the home setting/senior visits too). Here a few ideas, a few more planning tips, and some web resources to peruse…

A few activity ideas from little ol’ me

  • I was always a fan of intergenerational stuff. I often invited local school students (surprisingly, the middle school age group did very well!) to come and chat with the residents, in an informal setting, sometimes around a particular topic and sometimes just around anything they wanted to discuss.
  • When I worked at a community just five minutes from my alma mater, I invited a few of the professors to come and give brief lectures on their area of expertise. The residents loved it, and so did the professors one of them said to me after giving a lecture, “Boy, if only I could get that level of interest/attention from my students!”
  • Reminiscing Circles – grab a few antiques around a certain theme (the beach/vacations, kitchens, WWII, etc.), bring people together, pass around the items, and let the conversations begin.

I know this is a brief list, but you need to put your own stamp on things, and you need to know the resident population you are working with before you put together your first calendar. Your geographic location can influence activities. The age and abilities of your participants can influence your activities. Your budget (or lack thereof) can influence your activities. It’s a pretty subjective thing.

Despite these variations, when you’re planning activities, here are a few key principles to keep in mind:

  1. It’s all about the residents. You might have a fabulous idea, but if they don’t like it, all the hard work in the world won’t make it a success. Always ask for feedback from your residents. They will be honest with you, and they will appreciate that you asked for their opinion.
  2. Work smarter, not harder. Essentially, keep it simple. I can’t tell you how many times I learned that one the hard way. The fewer supplies involved (i.e. things you have to cart from your office to the wing where your activity takes place – which can sometimes be a very long hike with numerous, often unexpected stops along the way) and the less time you have to prepare for an activity (for example, cutting out 100 paper stars is probably not the best use of your time), the better off you’ll be. You won’t burn out as quickly, and you’ll have more time to do more activities. In the same vein, expensive doesn’t always mean better. Typically, the best activities don’t cost a thing.
  3. Know that you are just one person. There is only so much you can do in a day. You’ll want to make everyone happy, you’ll want everyone to be active, but sometimes it’s just not a reality. Do the best you can with what you have. Get other residents involved (peer-to-peer stuff is great!), get other staff involved, and lighten your load.
  4. Make sure it’s age-appropriate. Pretty self-explanatory- but it needs to be said. I’ve seen many, many activity directors who treat their residents like students in an elementary school classroom and it drives me crazy. Remember that even if your audience has certain limitations (macular degeneration, dementia, etc.), they are not children. Emphasize their abilities and tailor activities to their interests, not their limitations.

A few activity resources from the Web

Now it’s your turn

You don’t have to be a certified recreational therapist to come up with good ideas for age-appropriate activities in a senior living facility. Whether you’re a boomer, senior, or even a twenty-something, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What would you like to do if you lived in a retirement community? What types of activities would you absolutely refuse no matter how much food/entertainment/arm-twisting was involved?

I know that I’ve only scratched the surface here, so let’s keep this discussion going! And a HUGE thank you to all of the wonderful activity directors, recreation therapists, arts & entertainment directors, etc. (for as many senior living communities as there are, there’s a proportional amount of “titles” for these dedicated professionals) who work hard every day to make senior living community residents smile.

-Michelle Seitzer

There are 4 Comments about this post

  1. DJ Hughes says,

    Another activity many seniors love is sing alongs! They are great as background music, or a group sing along activity, trivia (what’s the next line), or playing along with rhythm instruments. The music and singing can improve moods and calm some behaviors too. You just can’t go wrong with sing alongs DVD’s.


    on 23 April 2010 / 2:16 PM

  2. Absolutely, DJ! I couldn’t agree more on all your points regarding the benefits of music. Thanks for your feedback!


    on 26 April 2010 / 3:07 PM

  3. Rhonda Denet says,

    I have developed a music showcase that features the tunes love by my grandmother and aunt who have both passed on. I’m offering it throughout the NYC tri-state area.

    I’ve been calling/emailing facilities individually to spread the word about the program and have recently begin offering 20-minute “free-view” performances so that activity directors can determine if this is right for those they represent. I’d like to take a broader approach but have limited advertising resources. Would you have any suggestions for letting activity professionals know this is available?

    This is a fee-based program at this point as the goal is to be able to present this and other showcases like it on a full-time basis. However with the economic situations we are all facing I wonder how realistic that is so I’m looking into alternative funding (like grants, sponsorships, etc). Have you ever relied on 3rd party contributions to support your activities?


    on 21 May 2010 / 12:47 PM

  4. MSeitzer says,

    Hi Rhonda, I would suggest getting on LinkedIn and joining some of the many professional groups on there, such as Assisted Living Professionals and other senior housing-related groups.

    I never relied on 3rd party contributions to support activities but I’m sure there are grants out there for music therapy that might be worth checking into.

    Good luck!


    on 02 June 2010 / 9:33 AM


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