Encouraging the elderly to participate in scheduled activities can be challenging. Lack of engagement is a common problem. It is important that you identify any barriers - whether perceived or real - that might be preventing residents from getting involved.
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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.

Related: 10 Ways to Increase Activity Participation

Below are some common barriers; most of them can be overcome with the right motivators.

Common Barriers to Participation

1. Language barriers

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.


2. Feelings of inadequacy (too old, too sick)

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.

3. Fear of making a fool of themselves

Mitigate this fear by:

  1. Inviting a guest to join them or
  2. Demonstrating the activity yourself

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.

Related: 10 Benefits of Coloring-In for the Elderly

4. Fear of not being able to keep up with others

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.

5. Lack of awareness of the benefits of activities

Ask a physiotherapist to assist you in explaining the benefits of movement through exercises, dancing and walking.

6. Maladjustment to residential care

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.

Related: 12 Tips for One-on-One Visits with Seniors

7. Pain and/or depression

If you think your client is in pain or depressed, inform and seek the advice of health care professionals.

8. Threatened by peers

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.

Related: How to Respond to Concerning Behavior

9. Don't like to mix with 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.

Related: 15 Activities for Loners and Introverted Seniors

Motivating the elderly is an ongoing process

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.

Ask Residents for Help

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.


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Comments   Post a Comment

Hi all, I am CDS specialist RN and MoCA accredited practitioner. I run my own dementia Family and care givers workshops. I have a lady who's mom is going to be diagnosed by a gereantologist, in about 3 months time, due to the long waiting period fo an appointment. She has been treated by a physician specialist, who has done virtually zero for her. I was called last evening by the daughter, who is suffering from burnout..... her mom cannot focus for longer that 10 minutes at a time. Her specialist physician has prescribed seroquil for nights and is now suggesting that seroquil be given twice a day....this makes the dear old lady so sleepy and she does not want to do any activity during the day, except the daily dressing, bathroom duties and eating. Her appetite has changed and she is refusing to drink liquids. She seems to start sundowning from around 2 pm daily and blames her daughter for everything in her life, when things go wrong. Keeps asking for her deceased husbands, and is starting to get aggressive. her duaghter is a schoolteacher and has many games, puzzels, and activities for all ages, but her mom cannot concentrate long enough... I have refered her to a gereantologist, who I find is the best for assessessing and treating dementia. I would like any suggestions to help my clients find a way forward. even sorting washing, or peeling potatoes, or doing the easiest household chores is an issue. I have as yet not see the ladies, as I am waiting for the outcome of the MRI and cognitive assessments to come through from the gereantologist, once my client has been to see her. I think she could have an underlying delirium issue, like dehydration, UTI, or an underlying health issue that has caused her to have this kind of continuous behaviour. I have asked the daughter to get her GP to see her before seeing the gereantologist..... Any suggestions would be most welcome....
Susan 31st Jan 2024 Activity Director
Wow, Evelyn
This is a tough one
I am wondering how old the client is
If she is refusing to drink, that can be a problem because dehydration can cause a lot of problems
Here are some suggestions for that
As you can see, there are many complications of this
Has the daughter ever thought about adult daycare?
How about getting a caregiver for a few hours to give her a break
Perhaps the client needs more exercise walking is always good
Is there anything that can be adapted that the client used to like to do?
Coloring Can be relaxing even if it's simple
I will think more about this keep us updated
Susan 31st Jan 2024 Activity Director
Hi again, Evelyn
Respite care one being another option for giving the daughter a break
Cynthia Teffer 31st Aug 2021
This board is wonderful. I also work with the elderly one on one and in group's Thank you for sharing
Cynthia Teffer
Talita 3rd Sep 2021
Thank so much for your feedback Cynthia!
Susan 13th Jul 2019 Activity Director
Thank you for sharing Janet
I say if it works use it
Thank you so much
Janet 13th Jul 2019 Activities Director
Hi, I have gotten 15 of our guys attending the men's group I buy pizza and we have soda and a dessert. the men enjoys talking About sports . fishing and we do some word games
Talita 15th Jul 2019
What a wonderful outcome Janet!
Ann Campbell 27th Aug 2018
I have invited the local daisy troop to visit and have planned to invite Boy Scouts as well. We will garden, Cook and help with their badges.
Talita 3rd Sep 2018
This sounds wonderful Ann! I'm sure these visits will be very much enjoyed!
Kandace 29th Jul 2018
I have residents that are high functioning VERY able bodied and BORED .... I am one activities coordinator for 68 residents total and need ideas for meaningful activities and 'jobs' for when I'm not at work. I work 40 hours a week but I am ONE person .... HELP!
Wendy 6th Aug 2019 Recreation therapist
Hi Kandace
With very capable residents, ask them to make suggestions and take a role in making it happen, giving them a sense of "ownership" and empowerment. List the potential resident roles and put that up in a common area asking residents to nominate if they would like to do one, or if they would like to suggest another role. Some ideas to start might be: a "roving reporter" in the home, finding/writing up snippets for the home newsletter; using a camera to take pics of flowers in the garden, birds feeding etc for a "photo of the week" noticeboard; finding a joke, poem or prayer of the week to share on noticeboards; maintaining supplies of quiz, spot the difference, or crossword sheets around the home in designated spots such as lounge areas, corridor activity stations for residents to use at any time day or night- adult colouring sheets are very popular too; dining areas often have residents who fold serviettes decoratively, vary floral arrangements on tables (silk, dried or real). Setting up one or more spaces with a large jigsaw puzzle and sign inviting people to complete has been popular in our home - one resident started and was soon joined by others and staff from time to time! An area with board games can be good for self-directed activities - from complex ones like chess, checkers, word games, to snakes and ladders - try to get one or two residents to nominate to keep the games area tidy/re-set. Do you have a computer for resident use and any residents who are computer savvy - having one show others places they'd like to see or visit using Google Earth has been popular in our facility - they don't need you there to facilitate, it can be fully self-directed - they just organise a time to be there & anyone interested joins. Depending on the interests, expertise and skills of your residents you might get a wide variety of other interesting suggestions from them! Wendy
Solange 8th Aug 2019 Diversional Therapist
Hi, Wendy, great ideas for high functioning residents. Thank you for taking the time to share. I would add a few more:

A part of the garden to be looked after.

A podcast that appeals to them (science, book reviews, poetry).

Contacting your local Senior Citizens Club activities.

Learning something (a language, playing the drums/Ukulele or Belly Dancing.

Joining a Choir, Mahjong/Chess, Cards group

Jackie 11th Mar 2018
I am activities coordinator in my home 3 lounges dementia and nursing the residents are not wanting to do anything now just sleep.A couple play bingo /knit club but the others just want to sit sleep I put music on for them but they don't register the music most are at the worse stages of dementia and I am on my own ....2 floors 40 residents ...I need help
Solange 13th Mar 2018 Diversional Therapist
Hi, Jackie, don’t feel disheartened by the lack of responsiveness; it is not your fault. You could try a ‘Memory Box’ to give them something to do, or a family photo album to browse. It is sad that you are on your own, clients in the late stage dementia often needs ‘one on one’ attention. You could try to entice volunteers from the Community board of your local church.
All the best!
Deanna 20th Jun 2017 Activities Director
I am a new Activities Director at an Assisted Living and my residents are high level functioning and it is like pulling teeth to get them to come to an activity. Any ideas would be appreciated please?
Cheryl 30th Mar 2022 Activities Co-Ordinator
The thing that seems to work best for me in this situation - I am also quite new to this role and can find it challenging at times - is Reminiscence sessions. They absolutely LOVE it and it creates a whole different kind of atmosphere in the day room - residents who never usually communicate with each other do so beautifully during these sessions. There are lots and lots of cue questions available in the activities listed on this site. Good luck!
chant 26th Feb 2017
Music , Music, Music

Sing Alongs
Old TIme Favorites
Oldies but Goodies
Examples such as Singing In the Rain, Que Sera, Sera, you are my Sunshine...
National Anthem
Lord's prayer

Spiritual Therapy Rosary , poem readings, words of Encouragement, Joke of the Day, Daily Dirt, Current Events (Good News Only) , Meteorology....
Adél 13th Jun 2016
I am new at coordinating activities for people with Dementia. I enjoy it very much and would like to get all engaged, however each ones ability varies so dramatically and having only a couple of hours each day to engage with 30 plus residents is challenging. I am conducting small groups 3-4 at this stage and am looking for meaningful and appropriate activities to enhance each persons life style. I started the week off with : sorting and arranging flowers, colour in pictures, 1:1 time, walking in doors as well as outdoors. Could anyone recommend activities that will suite stage 3 dementia residents.
reita fisher 28th Feb 2016
My mother is 89, almost blind due to macular degeneration. She isn't very mobile. Has copd and tires very easily. She watches tv alot. What can I do to help her feel better about her days.
Solange 28th Feb 2016 Diversional Therapist
Hi Reita, you are going through a difficult phase in your life. I have been there myself and I understand how you feel. I assume your mother is still living at home. Here are a few options: you may search for adapted version of games she enjoyed in the past. Offer sensory activities such as a hand or shoulder massage, participating in some cooking, or making scented sachets as gifts for family and friends. Here are a few more ideas:
1. Offer her a plant (vegetable or flower) to look after; buy it small so she has the satisfaction of seeing it grow.
2. Maybe a friend/neighbour /grandchild can come and play a game of cards once a week.
3. Find a podcast that interests her; science, book review, gardening, poetry.
4. Your local Botanical Gardens may run a visually impaired garden session.
5. A church based craft or sitting exercises group.
6. Drum classes are becoming very popular with the elderly.
7. Knitting and crocheting are options but if your mother is not interested she may enjoy recycling yarn by unravelling old sweaters into bowls for charity.
Best wishes, I hope the above gives you food for thought.
Stacy 1st Nov 2017 Activity Assistant
My mother in law has macular too. She devours audio books from the library and the CNIB. You give them the types of books you like to read and they pick them out for you. She picks them up once or twice a week from the library and the CNIB come in the mail.
Christine Welsh 18th Nov 2014
Di Roach I fully understand your issue with the gentleman who loves footy, suggestion invite one of the local football club members to spend some 1:1 time with him, maybe he could bring in a ball and just roll the ball up a table, others may want to join in also, we have an activity where we use big exercise balls and roll them up/down table in time to music, creates a lot of laughter and I have found that even those with dementia and limited ROM join in this activity it becomes a very social event and everybody leaves with spirits up-lifted!!!
Cheers to everyone!!!
Di Roach 6th May 2014
I have 4 patients only one being a man and I have great difficulty in involving him in any activities. He is interested in football but i dont know anything about it. He just wants to go to the pub and have a smoke. His eyesite is poor his movement is very limited. He is a very nice man but I just cant seam to get him to join in. any ideas...
Sharon 1st Mar 2014 Educator
Thoroughly recommend the Montessori for Dementia way of thinking as activities are devised for both enjoyment and to have a secondary therapeutic effect eg to maintain or restore movement. The Montessori way of thinking is the importance of having a role/job to do and to enable rather than disable. Activities for those in long term care should always be meaningful to that individual and in particular with those living with dementia must 'make sense' in light of the person's past. Activities which involve long hours of sitting 'viewing' should be avoided. That's not living, that's being baby-sat, and can lead to greater mobility & cognitive loss plus behaviours of unmet needs in the dementia unit. Lobby your workplace for more input from all staff, not just the OT department, to provide meaningful occupation throughout the day.
Morena 24th Feb 2014 Diversional Therapist
That's great information, as motivation is a desire that comes from within the individual to perform a task. Well planned daily activities help to provide structure that has positive effects for person in long term care and dementia unit. As an example would be reminiscing and reality orientation activities such as Place, time, and a person of their immediate environment; it is important to understand all the participants' level of functioning. If they cannot all participate consider adding parallel programming. For example to have my residents engaged while main activity is going on Exercise 'cluster' residents who are unable to participate due to their functioning level. Play musical tunes at the background and clustering residents in a circle to observe and participate in sing along tunes. That's great and they enjoyed and have fun.
Jenny Bracken 3rd Jan 2014
Well had my first day at activities. Used some of your theories. I had a lovely morning. Every one enjoying each others company,getting to know each other.
Jenny Bracken 30th Dec 2013
Thankyou for replying.I found all your information very good. I will be using it in the near future.
lyn 11th May 2012 recreation therapist
Thankyou Wendy for your information sent to help me.I have ordered online and am awaiting delivery with total cost being $56.44 I just inserted the book title as you suggested and searched then I took the punt. I shall inform you when it arrives.Thanks again cheers.
Maria 8th May 2012
Yes Lansdowne ACF is very supportive of all the motivations above...in fact the territorial agression was solve in our facility with the names printing in large. We always find your ideas and the others very usefull. Thank you all
Wendy 2nd May 2012 Diversional Therapist
I have a suggestion for Lyn. Purchase a copy of \"Montesssori-Based Activities for Persons with Dementia\" \"Volune 2\". The book has 96 A4 size pages and is clearly written and explained. The book is available at any of the conferences for Diversional Therapists, but I bought mine on EBAY for a lot cheaper than you can get it elsewhere. It is still very expensive, (about $80-00) but it sounds exactly the book for you. It has activities for individuals, groups, men specific, and a section on rehab activities. Definately worth checking it out. Cheers Wendy
lyn 1st May 2012 recreation therapist
Thankyou for informing me ideas for involving residents in activities. I seem to need all the help I can get. The residents I care for in my group are very high care, none are mobile, they have very limited movement in working with their hands, they have also very short concentration scope. I would love to hear any ideas to help these people. They seem to love one on one attention which goes down well for them. I walk them outside in wheelchairs (If they want to), while there we admire the flower gardens and while we are outside they are absorbing the vital vitamin D as well as fresh air. One of this group of (4) is a very aggressive person who chooses to observe instead of participating (if he wants) We have had smelling of herbs from my garden. They don't play cards anymore, a couple of the women will try to piece together large jigsaw puzzles with my assistance and enjoy the end result looking at the picture.We reflect on their past always entertaining. Thanks from Lyn
Melissa 30th Apr 2012 Training Consultant (Operations)
This is really useful, thank you. Does anyone have ideas or info for setting up and sustaining a men's group?
We have a development day coming up for our therapy assistants and this is a topic of interest.
Wendy 29th Apr 2012 Diversional Therapist
This is great. Common sense; but seeing it in writing is a great motivator to continue prompting the residents to participate. Well done Tania.
Tania 29th Apr 2012 Diversional Therapist
This is great information and follows our faciities Spark of Life approach too!!!
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