The Evolution of Senior Living Activity Programs: How Involving Residents Benefits Their Long-Term Happiness
When older adults move into a senior living community, the loss of autonomy can feel overwhelming. In an assisted living center especially, the strict schedules and structured programming necessary for the benefit of the community are frustrating for seniors who spent their lives in control of their own decisions.
According to author Jill Vitale-Aussem, LNHA, author of “Disrupting the Status Quo of Senior Living: A Mindshift,” our “youth-obsessed culture unconsciously impacts even the most-well-meaning senior living policies, practices and organizations” while the industry’s standard hospitality model challenges older adults’ purpose and independence.
To help residents regain that feeling of autonomy, many activity directors are returning to the drawing board to design their programs and ensuring that residents have a seat at the table alongside them.
Why giving seniors a say in their community has been critical
Soon after an older adult begins to demonstrate minor cognitive impairments or becomes physically frail, decisions about their daily life are often made by others – whether it’s their family or assisted living staff – without always asking their opinion or securing their consent. British sociologist Paul Higgs refers to this stage of growing older as “The Fourth Age.”
"What happens for those people being positioned by the 'fourth age' is that they move into a third person narrative,” explained Higgs. “'He needs. He is. We will decide. He'll like that.' And this is one of the things that comes back to the idea of agency that frightens many people.”
By establishing a “senior commission” or modified “homeowner’s association,” comprised of a group of residents, activity staff can be advised on programs that will truly engage seniors and be supported as they introduce them to the rest of the community. Activities built on relationships rather than solely chosen by staff are key to a successful program.
As Jack Cumming of “Senior Living Foresight” wrote, “When activities and all decisions are made with residents instead of for residents, everyone benefits. Residents are empowered and the staff knows that their efforts matter.”
The shift to resident-focused programming
Everyone has a hobby they enjoy, whether it’s reading, fishing or one of a thousand other activities that instills a sense of self-confidence, pride and relaxation. As older adults enter senior living communities, most of their beloved hobbies fall in control of someone else’s hands, if they’re not eliminated completely.
When seniors have a choice of activities, and those activities amount to something meaningful, they regain a sense of independence and purpose. And the more dependent they become on caregivers, the more important these programs become to their overall wellbeing.
Today, the activity programs that prove most successful are ones that customize activities to each resident’s needs, interests and skill level. For instance, during COVID-19, one senior living community added a Resident Technology Assistant to its staff and launched a technology program in response to residents’ requests. Residents were thrilled to embrace a new hobby that allowed them to easily interact with family members, play games online and stay connected to the world outside the center’s doors.
Artfully Aging offers senior living communities the best of both worlds – senior-inspired watercolor art sessions and a technology-based platform that engage every participant. Artfully Aging eliminates any frustration for those living with cognitive limitations while providing all seniors with full autonomy to express themselves through their artwork.
Advancing the level of art programs in senior living communities has been essential to residents’ happiness. As author Shirley Hubalek wrote, “Older adult participants, who were creative, interested in art, and hungry for knowledge, deserved more.” Rather than focusing on more elementary art education like other art programs, Artfully Aging meets the diverse needs of residents by tailoring each session to all skill sets.
To learn more about incorporating Artfully Aging into your activity program, explore our menu of activities or contact us at 314.968.9148.