Top 5 Popular Activities from An Activity Director

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Hi Role Reversers! I wanted to focus this post on activities. Not the daily living kind–the fun kind! When I was an activity director (mentioned in my about me page) for a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF or nursing home), activities were the time fillers. It was a version of an adult day program in our residents’ homes. Now that we are in a pandemic as I’m writing this, our own homes are becoming the adult day program. If your loved one is like my mom, the stir-crazy has hit and it has hit hard

My mom’s biggest struggle during the pandemic is her lack of hobbies. Since she doesn’t have any specific interests, she tends to putter around the house all day. I know this because when I work from my parents house, I can hear her moving from room to room and mumbling. She has stated she feels lonely and has nothing to do at home. It is a sucker punch of guilt, right to the gut. I spent time processing how we could get past this.

During my companion visits when I would telework from my parent’s house, I have found ways to get my mom engaged. My mom is still independent with moderate cognitive loss. Her biggest thing is reading her daily plan that my dad sets up for her. If it is on the paper, she does it. So I thought about it and worked on incorporating activities into her daily plan. The process is hit or miss, partly because my mom has no problem telling me she doesn’t want to do something. Part of where I get my stubbornness from — LOL

Here are my top 5 favorite activities I used as an activity director. These are a combination of activities where I would get the most residents involved and activities that I now leave out open for my mom to pass by and complete on her own schedule. 

#5 Puzzles 

The great thing about puzzles is they come in all shapes, sizes, and levels. If you have space you can leave them on a table and walk away as you need to. In my mom’s case, we leave it on the table and she will sit at it for 20-30 minutes working, then leave it and come back when she saw it there again. This created an independent project for her that was working her brain. Win! 

Puzzles can be expensive, but dollar stores have a variety in all shapes in sizes (be warned: some pieces may be missing). If you want to give your loved one a puzzle, but would prefer it not to have children’s cartoons on it, then make it a craft project! Put the puzzle together and paint all the pieces white. Once it dries draw a simple picture on it or write a message with Sharpie. Once that is done, take a picture and put the puzzle pieces in the box. Give your loved one the new puzzle to complete. Easy!

#4 Folding, Sorting, Filing, or Organizing

This might sound a little mundane, but for someone with cognitive loss, folding, sorting, filing, and organizing are great ways to get their attention focused on something they already know how to do. When I was an activity director, I used to have a basket of socks that I rounded up from a dollar store. When one of my Alzheimer’s residents was antsy or wandering the halls, I would ask if she could help me do the laundry. 

Matching and folding the socks could occupy her for an hour at minimum. When she would finish a basket, I would ask if she would be willing to do another basket. She would often say yes, and I would take the basket back to my office fluff up the socks, and present them to her as a new basket. 

This is also a great task if you are a busy caregiver and need some help with household chores. Just saying! Providing your loved one with a task that helps you and letting them know how grateful and appreciative you are provides purpose and reminds them they are needed. 

Others items you can work with:

  • Sorting Change/Rolling coins
  • Filing papers
  • Organizing beads by color
  • Sorting cards by suit
  • Folding shirts

#3 Dancing

Does anyone else remember the “jazzercise” videos from the ’80s? I can’t quite remember how I stumbled upon them as a kid (probably my mom), but they have never left my mind since, and I used them with my residents. Jazzercise and dancing are a great combination of exercise and movement. They also provided a lot of laughter and silliness from my not-so-great dance moves. I would put on some music and have my residents do the wave, raise their hands in the air, do jazz hands, change a lightbulb, and go fishing (I was the very enthusiastic fish, of course). I was awkward, but they laughed so much. 

If you didn’t already know, music has therapeutic powers in so many ways. When we got my mom a Google Home and told her all she had to do was say “Hey Google, play music,”  my dad started telling me about her positive mood changes. 

Now my mom and I will have little dance sessions. We stretch to the music, dance silly, and laugh at ourselves. So go on and dance with your loved one. As the saying goes: dance like no one is watching!

#2 BINGO 

The second most popular activity when I was an activity director was playing “BINGO.” It took me a while to figure out why so many people loved BINGO so much. Finally, a coworker explained: it is the closest thing to gambling that our residents would get. Adding in my own BINGO Bucks as a form of payment may have also added to the excitement. Everyone loves winning money, after all.

 

If you have little ones that can play with your loved one, then make it a group game (it is a great way to learn numbers!). You can buy a BINGO set, print one here, or find an automated caller one like this one. I loved using the automated one on Activity Connection. This was a game-changer as an activity director. Not only did it allow me to help residents that needed some extra help, but it also allowed me to work on other projects while my residents were engaged in the activity. 

Are you ready for the most popular activity?? 

#1 Cooking Class

What brings people together more than food? Plus, when you are stuck with the adult version of school lunches day-in and day-out, getting fresh homemade food was the highlight of my residents’ week. 

We cooked a wide variety of meals, snacks, side dishes etc. I did the slicing, chopping and other knife work for safety reasons–oh, and anything that included a griddle or hot plate. The mixing, rolling, spreading, spraying, sprinkling and anything non-dangerous was all them. 

A few awesome things happened during cooking class:

Conversation: Cooking was a great way to start a reminiscing conversation about what they used to make when they were little or when they were caring for their family. Cooking started the conversation, helping to pull up memories about their lives. 

Appetite: When you cook, you spike your senses. The residents were touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, and hearing. All of these together cause salivation and desire for what we were making. This was often a blessing with residents who had minimal appetites.

Here is my challenge to you: connect with your loved one by cooking together. Have them help you make dinner, meal prep, or lunches. Sweets are always a great idea! Think banana bread, rolled cookies, or stuffed crescent rolls. If you can, try to cook something together at least once a week. Twice a week is better, but I will take what you can give. 

BONUS!

In the BINGO activity, I mentioned I made BINGO Bucks. Check out this free bingo bucks printable from Not Just Bingo. I used these for most activities with my residents to provide positive reinforcement, engagement, and rewards. They collected these things as if they were real money and treasure, I’m talking into the thousands and tens of thousands.

Print your own BINGO Bucks (or use real money if you can). Once your loved one has collected some cash, go on an adventure! Take them out to lunch, have a coffee date, and let them buy something special at Target.  

What Activities Do You Do?

What does your loved one enjoy doing as a hobby or activity? Share your activity ideas in the comments below!

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