There is hardly anything more rewarding for activity coordinators than an increase in resident participation. Weeks of hard work are paid off!
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There is hardly anything more rewarding for activity coordinators than an increase in resident participation. Weeks of hard work are paid off!

It is even more gratifying to see a resident who repeatedly declines to join activities walk into the recreation area for a concert, game or to participate in a trivia or discussion group.

Here are a few tips that may help improve participation rates at your facility. Some you may be using already, others you may not have tried for a while.

10 Tips for Increasing Participation in Activities

  1. Listen Carefully
    Be patient and take the time to listen. There are very few things more appreciated than undivided attention. Separate your clients into small groups; it is easier to concentrate on four or five people rather than fifteen. If you don't have adequate staffing to assist you, engage the help of volunteers to lead other groups.
    Related: 12 Tips for One-on-One Visits with Seniors

  2. Foster Friendships
    Encourage friendships by identifying residents with similar personalities and character traits and sitting them side by side during activities, at meal times or in the garden.

  3. Involve Relatives
    Support relatives by including and inviting them to participate in activities, meetings, gardening, bus trips and in doing so encouraging them to visit more often.

  4. Issue Invitations
    Create personalised invitations for recreation events; people are often moved by special invitations.

  5. Engage the help of Volunteers
    Initiate a volunteer's program. Volunteers are a wonderful resource and can assist by supervising small groups of people playing cards and games, leading discussions groups and reading poetry. They can also assist with 1-on-1 visits and help to motivate residents to attend activity sessions.
    Related: Resources for Finding & Managing Volunteers

  6. Promote Exercise
    Make residents aware of the benefits of exercise classes for their mind and body. Remind them that gentle exercise can improve strength and mobility while reducing pain and anxiety.

  7. Initiate Regular Meetings for Special Interest Groups
    Create special weekly and monthly groups meetings for special interest groups; poetry reading, high tea, knitting, at the movies, craft, creative art. Special interest groups that meet regularly are a wonderful way to build friendships.
    Related: Ideas for Hobby Clubs & Special Interest Groups

  8. Offer Drumming Lessons
    Invest in some percussion instruments; hand drums, bongos and tambourines. There are lessons free of charge online teaching African, Middle East, and American Indian drumming.

  9. Make Music Part of their Lives
    Music reconnects people to their pasts. It is a simple and inexpensive intervention for improving well-being. You don't have to be a qualified music therapist to help your clients to gain the therapeutic benefits of music. A combination of classic music, folk, brass bands, a capela and childrens choirs should be offered according to preferences on a daily basis.
    Related: How to Plan Music Activities for Dementia Care

  10. Invite School Groups for Inter-generational Activities
    Visit your local primary and/or high school and ask to speak with the Music or Art Teacher. Suggest a visit to your facility, where a group of children can share a concert, a themed craft session or a skit with the residents.
    Related: Intergenerational Activities: Program Planning & Activity Ideas

Remember that consistency plays an important role in increasing participation. Invite people to attend on a regular basis and continually search for different ways to motivate and entice them into attending.

Good luck!

We'd love to hear your feedback!
What do you find are the best ways to increase activity participation?

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Comments   Post a Comment

Cheryl 31st Jul 2022
I just took my residents on a trip to Disney. Decorated the leisure center as if they were in Walt Disney World, I had a backdrop of the Disney castle and each different station was a famous part of Disney or Disney movies. Employees and family members of residents even participated by bringing their Disney souvenirs and pictures.
Susan 6th Aug 2022 Activity Director
This sounds great!
SBWTC 25th Jun 2020 Allied Health Manager
With the family BBQ do you change the family and if so how much do you charge.
Susan 26th Jun 2020 Activity Director
Sbwtz I have never charged the family but I know some places do
Bev 20th Aug 2019 Therapeutic Recreationist
I’m finding in the Long-term care home I work at that the group of residence we have love to be involved but refuse to put much effort into attending (even though they are physically capable of doing so) so I have started changing the program locations. Instead of holding a Trivia, Craft, or even a simple no-bake baking group in a lounge or out of the way room, I am running it in the front lobby or main area on one of the units. People are naturally curious and can’t help but engage, it also has a side benefit of show other staff some of what I do and gives families a taste of what their loved ones are still able to do. Some of my programs have tripled in size and people are starting to talk about them again.
Solange 20th Aug 2019 Diversional Therapist
Hi Bev, thank you for the excellent tip. Incredible that a simple change in the venue could make such a difference. Thanks for sharing.
Shannon 16th Mar 2017
I am very interested in the drumming activity you mentioned. Could you please provide further information on the free online lessons - perhaps the website or contact details. Thanks.
Solange 16th Mar 2017 Diversional Therapist
Hi Shannon, yes drumming is a great activity for clients; as well as being diverse, fun, and different, those with physical issues can also be included. You could hire a Drum Therapy facilitator or facilitate it yourself. If you are doing it yourself, first learn a few beats with the links below and repeat them in a Drum Circle session; a circle of residents, each holding a drum.
The following links will give you a good idea on how it goes.
Best wishes.
Donna 15th Feb 2017 Activity Director
Lisa, i am very interested in your exercise to music program. My program has become kind of stale, I guess you'd say. But it has to be a "chair based" program as most of my residents are in a wheelchair or use a walker. I have looked into some "canned" music exercise tapes, but they are too fast or to music they don't relate to. But they would LOVE the old time songs like New York, New York. Can you PLEASE explain your program to me?
Jean 30th Jan 2018 Activities Coordinator
I tried a regular exercise program using a DVD but it did not work. We now have a group of about 6 to 10 regulars, most of who have dementia, and hit a balloon around. Much more fun and just as effective for upper body mobility. it involves social interaction also.
Talita 4th Feb 2018
Balloon games are always popular! Thanks Jean.
Kylie 26th Dec 2016 leisure and lifestyle officer
for a new year activity. My Ladies group are going to made happiness Jars. Every time you have a happy moment, you write it down on a post it or piece of paper and pop it in the Jar. At the end of the year you can look back at all the good that's happened. You can always have a read during the year if you are feeling down. We will decorate the Jar.
Candice 26th Aug 2015 Allied Health Assistant
Hi all,

I'm a therapy assistant in little ole Meekatharra of Western Australia and I conduct activities for the residents of the Aged Care Hostel each Wednesday. I am completely green to this and so it was great to come across articles such as this one but also comments such as yours to help motivate ideas and understanding when it came to not only my role but also the gorgeous residents I will be working with.

Being only a small town we only have a handful of residents in the hostel and it has been some time since they have had any kind of activity such as the program that I am merely beginning to implement with them. They are a mixture of aboriginal and white australian and for the most part they are sedentary as they have become accustomed to this way of life with not having much interaction other than their stay in carers who clean, wash, feed and generally watch over them.
Getting them interested to take part once again I felt would best start with my coming in each Wednesday to sit and talk to each of them and try striking up a bond but I have found this to be quite difficult as some of the aboriginal residents understand english but do not speak it by choice or do not speak to me because of their own cultural reasons or past influences. It is a challenge but a small one as I plan to simply do the do and by that I have created an activity plan over the next two months mixed between - arts and crafts, cooking or at least small amount of prep for us all to eat and drink as a group on that day, game day, and an outing which will almost always include morning tea/picnic. Of course the resources that are available are either few or dated and so this is obviously something I am trying to rectify but til then I have used ideas towards what is available until we are able to get in some new resources. I do feel that by having new resources readily available it will help the morale and general ambience and even attitudes of the carers and residents so this has been one of my main focuses.

I would love to gain any and all ideas for me regarding my new role and anything else you dear people can give me. I would appreciate it so much.

Thank you all.
Solange 28th Dec 2014 Diversional Therapist
In the many years working in long term care facilities I never came across a management that discouraged staff holding hands with residents. Listening to a person while holding hands promotes trust and evokes positive emotions.
Gail 23rd Dec 2014 Personal carer
I am just a bit shocked, why is holding hands not the done thing? Sorry I had to comment as in our facility we are always holding their hands, giving cuddles and even kisses when they are in bed. They love it. I even put my arm around the residents (family as I call them) as we walk to the dining room or into the lounge room. Everyone should do it, don't be frightened to get close to the residents.
Maria 9th Sep 2014
Hi Lisa how great is this! how can I contact you for a demo or go and see one of your sessions and change some ideas? Sound unique...this is a great website.
Lisa 1st Jul 2014 Positive Living Assistant
I agree with anything musical. I am a Zumba Gold Chair teacher and so a half hour chair based excercise class to Latin American and other beats including songs they know eg, New York New York and In the Mood etc. it is great, I had to slow it down to half time again but it gets their mind, body and soul rocking . Also I started a percussion group with djembe drums and shakers and have them doing a samba beat and an African beat, awesome!!
Solange 30th Jun 2014 Diversional Therapist
Hi Amanda, elder people have an increased need for nurturing and touch is high on the agenda of needs. It helps build relationships, and convey love, reassurance and hope. The comfort you gave this gentleman won't be forgotten.
Amanda 25th Jun 2014 Activities organiser
Touch is a very important, this was very apparent today, we have a new resident 100yrs old who has just moved from another home. I went into see him and I knelt down by him and took his hand whilst he told how he felt, I felt the grip get tighter as he explained how he was feeling, he was feeling quite lost and miserable. Reassurance I was there listening to him made him feel more secure and able to express his concerns. I felt a real connection was made and this I feel will help him gain trust in us. A lovely lovely person.
Sheree 19th Jun 2014 Activities Co-ordinator
John I think you're right about people thinking 'touch' is not the done thing but I say 'Pah!'. Humans NEED physical connection with other humans - especially in care where the most likely human touch they receive is getting bums wiped and assistance with bathing! I am always hugging my participants, I squeeze their hands, put my arms around them and tell them I love them. I often kiss them goodbye and shake hands when we finish a session. It is pure affection and they respond to it well. I have had the most amazing responses from this approach - including reduced 'challenging behaviour'. I think it's all about sharing love and we should do more of it.
Solange 9th Jun 2014 Diversional Therapist
I am glad it worked well for you Amanda. Theses social functions are well worth the effort, bringing immense joy and wellbeing for all concerned.
Amanda 9th Jun 2014 Activities organiser
Amanda. 8 June 2014
Great ideas, only last Friday evening we held our first resident and family, staff and their families BBQ, it was a great success. Our residents loved to be amongst the staff and their families, feeling relaxed and enjoying the atmosphere. To add to it we had great weather. This will definatly be repeated again very soon.
Diane 8th Apr 2014 Program Coordinator
I just love this idea, will put it to my volunteers doing Group visits.
Solange 2nd Apr 2014 Diversional Therapist
You are quite right John, touch is an underdeveloped sense; we should do it more often, especially in Nursing Home settings. Research demonstrates that communication by touch is underestimated. Touch can indicate friendship, joy, gratitude, and sympathy. Providing that the people feel comfortable with it, a 'holding-hands' circle of friends can only add to the well-being of all concerned. Thank you for the feedback.
John 1st Apr 2014 Semi-retired
I'm not sure whether it's politically correct or not, but I believe there is a lot to be gained by simply holding hands with another human being.
Why not suggest that with a group of any size sitting in a circle, and starting at one point, ask the first person to reach out and hold the hand of the person next to them.
Once that connection is made the second person then holds hands with the person on the other side of them, and then progressively round the circle.
Once the circle is complete, a short musical item could be played allowing a measured amount of time for the hand-holding to continue.
When the music stops, it would be a good idea to "unwind" the friendship circle, one person at a time, until no one is holding hands again.
I must say that I have never tried this before, but I do know that there is an immeasurable power in making contact with another human being.
sandra 30th Mar 2014 volunteer carer
Requiring activities for my Chat Group for around 10 people in varing stages of dementia living at the aged care facility where I volunteer. As a group, with little time for one on one unfortunately. They are my "friends". We only have an hour together which is all I am allocated weekly. I am very humble giving joy to these wonderful people. Thank you.
kareen 21st Jan 2014 activities officer
We have the children from the day care centres come, residents just love the involvement..Children sing a few songs and get them all happy and laughing, they then bring jigsaw puzzles and mingle with the residents. They have did craft and colour in. The residents also then take kids around the facility to show them where they live or the gets them walking and making friendships lots of hugs given by the kids and the folks...We are also looking this year at planting flowers with the children and some potplants this way children can chat and ask residents to see how garden is It has been a huge success
Jennifer 5th Jan 2014 Lifestyle co-ordinator
Haven't done a family BBQ, sounds good I will have to ask if we can try one at our facitlity thanks Jennie
Lindy 29th Dec 2013 Diversional Therapist
Good suggestions. We hold family BBQ's & family Sunday brunches every month the residents love having their families over for a social meal & the families love the opportunity to visit with a social purpose. A lot of work cooking for 130+ on the BBQ but always very popular, if I tried to stop these there would be a riot. There are so many positives too many to list .
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