By Del Mcalister Australia
When was the last time you laughed?
What made you laugh?
What makes you feel happy?
What makes you smile?
Now think for a moment of the people you care for.
When was the last time they laughed?
Do you know what makes them laugh?
Do you know what makes them happy?
Do you know what makes them smile?
The best advice I ever got from a mentor in the aged care industry was 'Really get to know your clients'. Chat with their families and read their notes. Be observant and vigilant. Spend time with them.
My role as a recreational activities officer is not only to provide entertainment and do my utmost to ensure cultural, emotional, social and spiritual needs are being met, but to also find out what makes them smile.
Depression is rife in aged care settings, and not surprisingly so. Imagine if you had multiple complex health issues, could no longer drive your car, were forced to leave your home and give your pets away, and had to go and live in a communal environment with strangers. That’s enough to plunge anyone into depression!
Many of your residents will be taking antidepressants. Instead of relying solely on medication, I choose to prescribe happiness therapy!
Initially, I thought that once a month we would have a session that included humor and happiness but I soon realized this was not enough. We need to create a happy atmosphere, and everyone needs to be part of it.
Happiness needs to be interwoven into the culture of every aged care home and a happy demeanor and a willingness to try and make people smile should be a prerequisite of every employee.
H – helps alleviate agitation and depression
A – activates ‘feel good’ hormones
P – produces energy
P – promotes relaxation
I – increases positivity
N – nourishes the spirit, soul and body
E – encourages playfulness
S – strengthens the immune system
S – stimulates cardiovascular health
I’m a huge fan of laughter and often watch funny movies. After a hearty laugh I feel fantastic. One of the items on my bucket list is to study laughter therapy.
Children laugh approximately 80 to 100 times per day, but by the time we reach adulthood most of us laugh less than 6 times per day. Somewhere along the line the pressures of adulthood stifle laughter and we tend to forget that a balanced lifestyle must incorporate joy.
Laughter stimulates the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals. This, in turn, improves well-being, social engagement, and quality of life. Laughter has also been proven to reduce tension, soothe aches and pains and improve the immune system.
So let’s look at ways we can make our clients smile. Often it’s the small simple things that will bring smiles and ignite giggles. I always add fun and laughter to our exercise and music programs.
There are plenty of shops with cheap items that you can buy and wear that will make people smile. Some ideas are:
I always add funny comments like when I wear a bright pink wig, and someone comments I will say "My hairdresser got carried away" or when I’m wearing a clown nose I say "I'm practicing to be Rudolph in the Christmas play."
You could add these items to a box and encourage people to try some on, and take photos.
I love singing happy songs with our residents. Some are:
Related: Songs for Seniors
Sometimes I do silly antics with them.
Jokes are always a hit with our residents. One day I got a joke book from the library and they were all sexist, racist, demeaning, offensive or dirty. I think I only found two in the entire book that were suitable.
So I spent several hours one weekend searching the internet for suitable ones. Since many people in aged care have dementia, I chose mainly one-liners.
What do you call a sleeping bull? Bulldozer
What do you get when you sit under a cow? A pat on the head
Why don’t eggs tell each other jokes? Because they crack each other up
Why do deer need braces? Because they have buck teeth
Why was the baby strawberry crying? Because his parents were in a jam
Why was the cucumber mad? Because it was in a pickle!
Why couldn’t the skeleton go to the dance? Because he had nobody to go with
Why can’t skeletons play church music? Because they have no organs
Related: Jokes to Share
We need to be selective about funny movies. But some of the old ones are great! The generation of people in care at the moment love Laurel and Hardy, Jerry Lewis and the old British comedy sitcoms such as Are You Being Served.
As well as a name badge, I believe every staff member should wear a happy face badge. And whilst on the topic of what staff wear, leisure and lifestyle staff should ditch their clinical-looking institutional uniforms and wear Hawaiian shirts instead!
I'd love to hear your ideas for spreading cheerfulness and laughter in care facilities!