Encouraging the elderly to participate in scheduled activities can be challenging. Lack of engagement is a common problem.
It can be so discouraging to put your heart and soul into planning activities only to have them ignored or dismissed by residents.
To encourage participation it is important that you identify any barriers - whether perceived or real - that might be preventing them from getting involved.
Below are some common barriers; most of them can be overcome with the right motivators.
Try to engage a family member to attend a couple of sessions. Alternatively, seek a volunteer fluent in the language of the resident to visit twice a week and assist with activities.
Try bargaining; invite him or her to 'watch' the activities and then later encourage them to give it a go for 10 minutes.
Pair-up the resident with another who attends activities regularly and invite both to attend the next session.
Mitigate this fear by:
For instance when I run 'Art Therapy' sessions I always join the residents by painting with them. As I am a dreadful artist they always end up laughing at my efforts (with my full support). And then, suddenly, making an average painting is not a big deal.
Emphasise that there is no hurry; what is not finished today can be done tomorrow. Assist them with each activity until they build up confidence.
Ask a physiotherapist to assist you in explaining the benefits of movement through exercises, dancing and walking.
There are no guaranties that people will settle in happily to residential care. Most do in time however some do not. Daily one-on-one visits will help you to get to know each other and build trust. Later you can start inviting them along to activities.
If you think your client is in pain or depressed, inform and seek the advice of health care professionals.
There are many types of aggressive behaviors that can result in clients choosing not to participate in programmed activities.
Territorial aggression is one of them and can upset many people in nursing homes: 'This is my chair' or 'You don't sit at this table' for example.
One way to avoid this is by placing the name of each participant in large letters on the chair or table so nobody attempts to take the place of others.
Use tender loving care. If a resident doesn't like large groups then invite them along to small group sessions with three or four people.
Try to find like-minded peers; others with a similar personality and demeanour. Introduce them one by one in intervals of 3 to 4 weeks and see how you go.
Sometimes you will only manage to connect two people, but it is worth trying for a third or fourth person. Then you can introduce games and other activities suitable for small groups.
Whether you are working with recent or long-term residents, they are often troubled with health problems, sometimes depressed because of loss of abilities or missing their loved ones.
However people are social creatures at heart and one of the most powerful factors in motivating residents is consistency.
Keep inviting residents on a regular basis; appeal to their sense of community by asking them to help you out. Ask them to help you create craft gifts for others, assist with cooking, help peers to play a game, set the table for a special garden or art session and/or sort out drawers or boxes of craft material.
These sorts of 'helping out' activities may well give residents a sense of belonging and identification.
Don't give up. Negotiate without coercion. Deep down everybody seems to enjoy cooperation and your gentle persistence will be rewarded.
We'd love to hear your feedback. What has worked for you?