A few simple guidelines to encourage interactions between residents at senior living facilities can help activity directors plan and execute successful special events.
Encouraging interaction is very important for these facilities because it helps achieve organizational goals. At the surface, the main priority is to keep community morale high, however, from a business perspective, it is understood that the special event curriculum is a major recruitment tool. But the job isn’t just about activities, as the title suggests. The job also involves creating an atmosphere in which residents are not only encouraged but are also excited to participate. Fortunately, several simple design concepts exist that can help transform a bland and boring common area into trendy, stylish and engaging space.
In a perfect world, the facility would have an unlimited budget and residents who are always upbeat and happy. I am willing to bet this perfect scenario doesn’t truly exist. The activities budget is most likely limited, and some of the residents may need more encouragement than others. But even if limited to one room, the key to driving engagement isn’t about how much space is available, but rather how easily can space be adapted to serve different needs. In other words, how versatile is the space?
There are many companies which can work with you to design a space. However, if your budget doesn’t allow for an interior designer, you can look for inspiration online. HUBERT® offers many décor items that can be used to add color, warmth, or a festive feel to any common area. A good starting point could be adding a focal piece. For example, starting with clear display jars and filling them with colorful items, papers, flowers or other inexpensive items, which support the overall theme of your event, can be an easily adaptable and reusable centerpiece.
Next, think of utilizing portable tables and carts. For example, the Expressly HUBERT® Convenience Cart can be configured in hundreds of different layouts with drop-in trays, decorative tiles, dishes, magnetic signage, and thanks to its stainless steel construction, and deep service wells can even support warming and cooling containers. Additionally, there is an abundant amount of storage space in the lower storage area for the interchangeable decorations and service pans. To remain flexible, it is important to choose carts that are mobile, easily cleaned, and versatile enough to allow for reconfiguration for future events.
Simple Guidelines to Keep in Mind
By making a few smart buying decisions, you can mix and match your décor items so that they can be reused for many different occasions. Over time, you can add to your collection of accessories and décor items. This will provide a steady stream of new variations that can aid in creating new visual design appeal and intrigue.
Once you have a robust library of ideas and items, you can focus on how to best utilize your space. Several online resources provide examples that can help you layout your space. The core of these can be summed up into a few key ideas.
- Functional Flow: Be sure that when arranging furniture, décor, and equipment, accessibility isn’t hindered in any way. Residents should feel free to mingle with other residents and providing open movement to seating, entry and exit points is essential.
- Provide a Focal Point: Arrange seating and social areas so that the main focus of your event or theme can be enjoyed from multiple angles. This will provide a topic for your residents to discuss and connect over.
- Stimulate the Senses: Stimulating the senses has been proven to be an effective non-medicinal treatment for mental health conditions such as depression, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease*(citation provided below). Incorporate different items that cater to touch, sight, hearing, taste, and smell. The more senses that are engaged, the more your residents will want to take part. However, be mindful of individual resident needs. It is good to stimulate your resident’s minds, but overstimulation can be problematic. The stimuli should be accessories to your theme, not the focus. Think subtlety.
- Provide Food: Food has an amazing capability to bring people together. Incorporating different dining solutions, snack bars, desserts, and drinks can also take a special event to a whole new level.
- Evaluate Successes and Failures: Throughout the event, ask residents for opinions of the event. However, keep in mind that to get valuable data, it is important to ask direct questions. Did you like the theme? Did you get to meet anyone new? Would you like to see (or do) this again? What would make it better? Asking generic questions will give generic answers. Think of a few direct questions before the event and then ask your residents exactly what you want to know.
When the event is over, take notes on the event while it is fresh in your mind. Keeping a journal of successes and failures will help tailor events to specific triggers which have proven to engage residents, and those which may not have worked as well as hoped. Online resources can give you tips and tricks, but to be effective at engaging residents and encouraging interaction, it is important to try new ideas, use new equipment, and be passionate about each opportunity. Residents will pick up on the enthusiasm surrounding each event and help to nurture its success.
Lastly, understand that no plan will be perfect for every personality. But remaining dedicated to providing the best experience possible, it is reasonable that the needs of the business and the residents will be met for years to come.
* Kverno, K., Black, B., Nolan, M., & Rabins, P. (2009). Research on treating neuropsychiatric symptoms of advanced dementia with non-pharmacological strategies, 1998–2008: A systematic literature review. International Psychogeriatrics, 21(5), 825-843. doi:10.1017/S1041610209990196