How to Interview an Activity Director

Having been an activity director for four years, I truly enjoy when families collaborate on a plan to get their loved ones involved in the activities in my community.

When first touring an assisted living community, it is very important to receive a copy of the activities calendar. Most seniors who are transitioning to assisted living have been very active in their communities prior to the transition.

It is very important that they continue to be active and feel a part of their community. Here are some recommendations to make that more likely.

Meet the Activity Director

Ask to meet with the activity director. Let the activity director know what kind of activities your loved one really enjoys. If those activities are not a part of their program, ask them how they can incorporate the things your loved one enjoys into the weekly routine.

Get Out of the Building

Make sure residents are taken out into the community for activities.  Staying in on the assisted living grounds all the time is not an acceptable option. Ask your activities director if and how they are connected to the community. Many times during the transition period, residents prefer to remain isolated in their rooms. The activities director should be able to clearly articulate the ways he or she plans to help your loved one connect with other residents.

In my facility, I have a welcome committee made up of residents that greets a new resident immediately and will stay close to them during the transition. They will come get them for meals, activities, and just spend time connecting with them on a personal level. This has been very helpful in transitioning and integrated new residents into the “family.”

Physical, Cognitive and Emotional Stimulation

Ask your activity director how he or she plans to meet the physical, cognitive and emotional needs of your loved ones. If your loved one has a disability — physical, vision, hearing or dementia — ask the activity director how activities are adapted so that your loved one may participate.

Your loved one should never be left out because the activities cannot be adapted to their needs. This should be an important factor in your community selection process.  Every activity in my program can be modified to meet the needs of every resident in our community.

I have a simple rule: If it can’t be adapted, we don’t do it.

Stay Connected with Long-Distance Families

Many families live far away from the community where their loved one resides. Ask the activity director how you can stay connected with them and how you stay informed about their participation in the activities program. I do this through pictures and emails. I send pictures of the residents participating in their activities to the families.

Activities for Individuals

I have several residents who prefer not to do physical activities or crafts. In their younger years they owned a store or did floral arranging, so I opened a General Store in our community. These residents take a great deal of pride in taking inventory and working as the cashier within our community. Ask your activity director if he or she is willing to add activities for individual residents to help them feel apart of their surroundings. The most important factor is that your loved ones have a purpose. They need to be stimulated every day — physically, cognitively and emotionally.

Communication is Key

The activity director should provide a “safe space” for your loved one to be able to come to talk, participate or just to come for a hug. Communication should be on a regular basis with the families, either by phone, email or mail. Follow up with your activity director to make sure your loved one is participating and not isolated.

A Successful Program is Obvious

A healthy program has a consistent flow of activities from morning until early evening.  Healthy programs have a variety of choices. Families may even want to participate and join an activity with their loved one.

I have 8 activities a day with 50 participants at least at every one of them 7 days a week.

A successful activities program is often the best sign that the community is becoming their home.  And residents that have grown together as a family ultimately enjoy the time they spend with each other.

About the Author: Terri Glimcher is a Contributing Writer at Inside Assisted Living and the Activity Director for Summerville at Oak Park Assisted Living, an Emeritus Senior Living property in Clermont, Florida.

  • Denise Jackson

    What a great person you chose to feature on your website! I am now an activities director in New York, but shadowed Terri Glimcher while I was training for my activity director certification in Florida. Terri’s activities program is like no other that I have seen from coast to coast. The residents are always involved,they are downstairs and ready to start the day,AND waiting in the parking lot for her arrival every day. She is an advocate for seniors needs. Terri is aware of the needs of every resident. Every one of them stays involved in different capacities. Non participation is not an option. I have learned so much about the aging process and how important living with dignity is. She is truly amazing and I thank her for sharing her expertise with me. Denise

  • Ryan Malone

    @ Denise – Thanks for following. Sounds like you had a great teacher :) Feel free to chime in with anything you’ve done up there in NY!

  • Sue Susskind, Certified Senior Advisor

    Kudos to Terri! I was lucky enough to visit the faciity where Terri is Activity Director. The minute she walks in the door, the faces of the residents light up. I spent hours talking to them, and all call Terri part of their family, not staff. I truly believe she has given these residents a gift, the gift of feeling alive, not just existing.

  • Dina

    Terri, what you’ve written has given me some excellent tips to follow up on with the Activity Director at my mother’s AL facility. Very helpful! Thank you.
    Ryan, I appreciate the comment you left on my blog Mimi’s Place earlier this week. I appreciated the link to your website which is one of the best I’ve seen…well-written, helpful, a good variety of information. I’ve written about you today on my blog and put you on my list of favorites.

  • Ryan Malone

    @ Dina – Thanks! Very nice of you!

  • Mr. Nazario, Lake County High School Teacher

    Prior to becoming a teacher, I had been a social worker for over a decade. Terri knows that not only does our line of community work call for major networking, community partnerships, resources development and sharing but also calls for ongoing learning, staying current with the times and current issues that our communities face. In having the amazing opportunity to partner up with her and the residents of Oak Park Senior Assisted Living community, not only do we really enjoy each other but we’re seeing how two completely different age groups can successfully work together, grow together, laugh together and learn from each other. This experience has further supported my theory that we CAN have commonalities among our varying populations and bring closer the generation gaps, ideals and beliefs that we once believed to separate us.

    As my students’ teacher, I want to genuinely express my appreciation for your generosity (Terri) in support to our classroom. Her personal commitment is incredibly helpful and allows me to reach our classroom goals for helping our students and families believe and achieve. Your donation of time, activities, goods and services, also serves as a teachable moment for us as I continue to emphasize to my students the importance of community involvement, daily living skills and our mission of working together. Terri’s assistance means so much to me and even more to our learning community, especially during these tough economic times when as a community our moral may be low, our patience tested and in some cases, our hope for a better tomorrow may seem bleak to some. Everyday we must work to eliminate the negativity, doubt and aim for a better tomorrow.