3 Ways Good Design Can Help People Who Have Dementia

The design of the environment we live in has a profound impact on our mood and wellbeing, especially for people living with dementia. In this post, we’ll look at some ways that good design can make an impact, from the use of colors and lighting, to making it easy to perform daily tasks, helping you to plan a suitable environment for your loved one, or to identify a care home designed for the needs of people with dementia.

Good use of color

Color choices play an important part in ensuring people with dementia can navigate their surroundings, identify familiar places and affect their mood. Firstly, contrasting colors can be used on furniture, fittings and fixtures to help people navigate and interact with their surroundings. For example, using a light switch that contrasts in color to the wall it’s on can make it easier to identify, avoiding confusion. Similarly, utilizing handrails that contrast to the walls their mounted on makes them easier to find, encouraging people with dementia to explore their surroundings without fear of getting ‘stuck’. Ensuring furniture is a different color to the floor also makes it easier for people to negotiate the room without fear of tripping up, while also making it easier to identify where they are and find their way around.

Using different color doors is another good way to help people with dementia identify different rooms. For example, painting bathroom doors a different color to other doors can help people identify what’s inside them. Colored doors are also used in care homes for residents’ rooms, helping to make them more recognizable and making it less likely for residents with dementia to get lost and enter other people’s rooms accidentally.

Before painting any walls or changing fixtures and furniture, it’s important to remember that color can affect mood. Be aware of any preferences that your loved one may have, for example if they have eye conditions, yellow, orange and red can be easier to see. Others may prefer darker colors like black or dark blue against light backgrounds.

Using lighting correctly

If lighting is not used correctly, it can make it harder to identify objects, create shadows, and change perceptions of the passing of time, all of which can cause confusion and distress for people with dementia.

Natural light is the first important consideration. Not only does natural light provide higher levels of diffused light, which creates soft, unnoticeable shadows, it also helps to show the passing of time as the light source changes throughout the day, making it easier to stick to natural sleeping patterns.

Artificial lighting also plays a part as it can help compensate for poor eyesight, helping people find their way around their home. For example, additional artificial lighting can be used to make it clear that corridors and pathways around rooms are clear and unobstructed, avoiding confusing shadows. The position of lighting needs to be considered, for example to avoid bright light directly over beds, which can make it difficult for people to rest. The choice of lampshade is also important, as these can be used to create diffused light, reducing shadows and creating a uniform level of brightness around a room.

Make it easy to perform day to day tasks

Interior design also plays a part in making day to day tasks easier to perform for those with dementia. Lighting can again play a part here, for example by illuminating the insides of drawers and cupboards when they are open, making it easier to find things.

People with dementia can also struggle to remember where things are kept, for example in the kitchen. A solution is to use transparent cupboard doors allowing the contents to be seen, or use labels to mark what’s inside. Pictures or icons are a good idea, as it can be easier to remember the look of an item than its name.

Icons and signs are also a great way to direct people to certain rooms. For example, signs leading to the bathroom may include pictures or icons representing a shower, toilet and washbasin, to remind users what the bathroom contains. Meanwhile, the dining room door could feature an icon of a knife and fork to represent eating, providing a visual clue to what can be done in this room.

In conclusion

If you’re making changes to someone’s living space or finding a new home for them, it’s important to remember that everyone has different abilities and needs which can change over time. It’s important to take a person-centric approach as a result, ensuring your loved one continues to be able to make their own choices and uphold their dignity.

About the author

Seb Atkinson works for Hallmark Care Homes, a leading provider of dementia care.

Elder Spring Cleaning

Many people take the beginning of spring as a time to clean, organize, and reset. With longer days on the way and warm weather on the rise, people feel a general increase in productivity during the spring.  Unfortunately, there are elderly folks living in senior care facilities are not always equipped to take on this kind of a task. Whether they are limited in mobility or just have too much cleaning and organizing to tackle on their own, your assistance might be necessary to complete spring cleaning. Below are some of the best ways for you and your loved one in a care facility to tackle spring cleaning this year.

Prioritize:  Before you even start your spring cleaning, it is best to begin by making a list of everything your elderly family member or friend would like to accomplish during their spring cleaning process. Once you have made your list, number  those tasks in order of importance. Tackle the biggest, most important projects first, like organizing medications or paperwork. As you complete those large tasks,  complete smaller, simpler projects in between. This will allow you to accomplish more!

Organize:  For the elderly, it’s especially important to keep items maintained and organized. Start by clearing out drawers and cabinets of their contents. Organize items by category. Everyday items should be kept in places where they are easily accessible, so keep that in mind when organizing closets, cabinets, and refrigerators. Also be sure to organize any relevant medical paper work, insurance information, or bills, and stow them away in a safe but easily accessible place. Organizing belongings makes it easier to find what you’re looking for, and will make it that much easier to find what they need when they need it.

Sanitize:  A clean living environment is vital to anyone at any age. If your loved one’s living space is looking lackluster, used sanitizing cleansers to clean flooring, countertops, and bathroom surfaces. This will spruce up the space instantly, and give your loved one a fresh reset to start the spring season in a healthy manner. Throughout the rest of the season, explain the small chores they’ll need to do to maintain the cleanliness, but a deep spring cleaning is a good jumping off point.

Involve:  While your elderly family member will surely appreciate your help, they don’t want to be completely left out of the process. Depending on their physical ability, you can have your loved one help out with certain spring cleaning tasks. Have them organize paper work while you organize a hard-to-reach cabinet, or assign another task that allows them to remain stationary. Helping out even in the slightest will allow them to feel involved and accomplished when the day of cleaning is done.

Facilitate:  Proper health care is a top priority for the elderly. Checking expiration dates of food and pills should also be part of your spring cleaning process. Make sure the senior care facility your loved one is in is a safe home for them to inhabit, clearing the floor of any trip-and-fall hazards. If your family member uses any type of medical devices, ensure they are functioning properly and ready for use. A list of phone numbers should be programmed into their phone or placed next to a phone in case of emergencies.

If you feel like this is a lot to take on yourself, make a day of it with the family. Helping out your loved one living in a senior care facility with their spring cleaning is a great way to spend time with them. Plus, doing so will allow them more time to participate in activities and socialize.

About The Author

Ruth Folger Weiss loves writing for The Waterford On The Bay, a senior living community in Brooklyn, New York.


Families: First Line of Defense in Elder Abuse

Many adult sons and daughters make every effort to visit their aging parents in nursing homes and other retirement communities in order to stay in touch and reduce the feeling of isolation their loved ones may have. There is a larger benefit to doing so and it extends beyond just one family. Nursing home abuse is not uncommon and it takes little effort for families to help elder law attorneys and senior advocates.

Many aides at nursing homes are trained very little and asked to work long hours at little pay. This is in part because facility operators do not get any more money from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services if they provide exemplary care. Therefore, many operate at the bare minimum. Working with aging residents who have varied and significant needs can also be taxing. Many aides snap.

While the situation creates the conditions, those actions are unacceptable. Families on visits should watch for any signs of bruising or injuries suffered by their loved ones. It may be difficult to assess any problems in the case of mental disability such as Alzheimer’s Disease, but that is not a reason to completely discount any complaints. Any repeated comments should be addressed with the facility’s staff at a start, and an elder law attorney if incidents seem to continue.

It also does not hurt to check in with nearby residents, especially if you know that they rarely receive visitors. Seniors in nursing homes are a very vulnerable population and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and state agencies only make annual inspections at best. It does not take more than a minute or two to ask about a parent’s roommate or the man or woman across the hall.

Finally, in addition to checking with the facility, making a complaint to the state Department of Aging or Health and Human Services should be made so that an investigation can be made (for more information on agencies related to nursing home care look here). In some cases, calling the local police department may also make sense. In any case, making examples of elder abuse public help not just your loved ones, but those of many others.

Finally, keep in mind that abuse is not always easily visible. If an older parent is acting differently, they may be depressed from a lack of independence. However, they could also not be fed properly or having their medications restricted without good cause by nursing home aides or nurses. These are more difficult to identify, but adult sons and daughters should be wary of these as well.

Ensuring that one made the right decision can be difficult, especially if there is not a clear sign of abuse. Check with a local senior advocate or even the family doctor to see what signs should be visible, or consider getting in touch with an elder law attorney. Abuse can be devastating to older residents, and family visitors can be on the front lines of making sure it stops sooner rather than later.

This was written by attorney Jonathan Rosenfeld. Jonathan is the founder of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers in Chicago, IL and has a law practice concentrating in cases involve nursing home negligence.

How to Spot Overmedication in Nursing Homes

Medication Management

Millions of Americans place their loved ones in nursing homes every year with the belief that their parents and grandparents will be cared for at all times. Unfortunately, with one out of every three nursing homes cited for abuse across the country, nursing home abuse is a very real problem in the United States. From dehydration and malnutrition to mental and sexual abuse, there are a variety of ways that residents can be mistreated in a nursing home facility. One common way many nursing home or assisted living facility residents can suffer is through overmedication.

One of the most important parts of nursing home care is ensuring nursing home residents are receiving the proper amount of medication at all times. And with the average nursing home resident taking seven to eight different medications a month, this can be a very involved process. Even with federal regulations in place to ensure nursing homes have a system to provide residents with the appropriate amount of medication according to their doctor or pharmacist’s orders, many residents suffer from overmedication every year.

In 2010, statistics from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reported that over 17 percent of all nursing home patients were receiving antipsychotic medications that exceeded the recommended levels on a daily basis. This number has reportedly been as high as 25 percent in the state of California and even a staggering 71 percent in the state of Florida. Even more alarming statistics suggest that close to 40 percent of nursing home residents were given antipsychotic drugs in 2010 even though they were not diagnosed with psychosis.

Unfortunately, a large number of nursing home abuse cases go unreported. If your loved one is a nursing home resident, you need to be aware of the signs of overmedication so you can take appropriate action. Some of the most common signs of overmedication include:

  • Erratic or unexplained change in personality and behavior
  • Sudden reclusive actions (even toward family members)
  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Oversleeping
  • Medical complications or other unusual physical symptoms
  • Loved one appearing easily confused

The new trend of using psychoactive medication to control nursing home residents is extremely dangerous. The Food and Drug Administration estimates roughly 15,000 nursing home residents die every year from unprescribed anti-psychotics. This method of treating nursing home residents is unfortunately used for the following reasons:

  • Nursing home staff shortages
  • A “drug first” mentality when treating elderly patients

If you believe your loved one is suffering from overmedication, ask to see a log of the drugs given to your loved one or visit the nursing home when medication is typically given. You may also seek the assistance of a medical professional or attorney to have experienced and professional help on your side.

About the Author: Donna Swanson is a professional blogger who regularly contributes to a number of different sites. She is passionate about helping people understand how a nursing home abuse lawyer can help those who have been the unfortunate victims of nursing home abuse.

Elder Care Issues: How to Reduce Caregiver Anxiety Symptoms

Caregiving is, by its very nature, the giving of yourself for someone else. Caregivers need to respond to the every need of the person they care for, and they often find themselves essentially giving up their own life for the life of someone else – all while dealing with the natural stresses and anxieties of caring for someone with special needs.
That kind of sacrifice comes with a price. Caregivers are often prone to serious stress and anxiety that can be debilitating, and may take away from your ability to deal with the needs of the person under your care. For those that are suffering from caregiver anxiety, consider these tools and tips for improving your own mental health.

Caregiver Anxiety Tips

  • Be “Selfish – Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that your mental health affects your ability to be a good caregiver. Caregivers with anxiety and stress won’t be 100% at all times. So if the stress is starting to get to you, it is in your best interests – and the best interests of the person you care for – to take a moment and find a way to relax. It’s not selfish to want yourself to be at your best, even if it takes away from your caregiving duties for a short time.
  • Join Support Groups – So much of caregiving involves taking care of those with dementia, or fading health, or Alzheimer’s, or some other disorder. Witnessing that breakdown can be emotionally difficult. Support groups give you an opportunity to surround yourself with others experiencing the same thing. It makes you feel like you’re not alone and supported. Developing that type of community can be powerful.
  • Exercise – One of the first things that caregivers neglect when they start caring for others is attention to their own physical health. Yet the mind and body are powerfully connected. If you’re consistently inactive you’ll end up with excess energy that will only fuel your anxiety further. If, on the other hand, you exercise regularly, you’ll burn away not only excess energy, but also cortisol (a hormone released when you’re stressed).
  • Go Out With Friends – As hard as caregiving is, chances are you have some free time (as little as it may be). It’s important you do not let yourself fall into the trap of using that time to simply mope about your stress. Force yourself to stay active. Go out and spend time with your friends, and allow yourself the opportunity to create social support for yourself, laugh, and create memories outside of your caregiving.
  • Therapy – Many people look at therapy the same way they do pharmaceutical medicines, and this is simply unfair. Therapy can be extremely effective at helping you cope with your stress and anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has received ample research into anxiety reduction tips and strategies, and seeing a therapist is 100% side effect free. If you can afford it, therapy can be an extremely helpful option to consider.

Developing Strategies to Cope With Anxiety

You can also find your own coping strategies as well, provided they are emotionally healthy. Skipping stones at a park or walking your dog may be a worthwhile way of coping, and if it helps you improve your mental health you should always find time to do it, even if it takes away from your caregiving duties for a short time.
The above methods of decreasing stress and anxiety are valuable, but they’re just suggestions. The most important thing you can do for your caregiver anxiety, however, is recognize that you own your mental health matters. No matter how much you need to care for someone else or how important that other person is, they – and you – need to always make sure that you’re taking at least a bit of time to ensure you are able to relax, otherwise neither of you will get the attention that you deserve from the caregiving relationship.

About the Author: Ryan Rivera is an anxiety specialist that has written countless tips for managing stress and anxiety. He has a website dedicated to anxiety disorders and treatments at www.calmclinic.com.

Elder Care Abuse: How to Know and When to Act

Elder abuse is something that occurs in the United States more frequently than many of us know.  According to Elder Abuse Daily in 2010, there are almost 6 million elder abuse cases every year.  This estimate demonstrates a growth since the American Psychological Association reported in 1999 that an average of over 2.1 million elder abuse cases occur every year.

According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, elder abuse is the, “knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.”  The administration states that these are the common abuse types:

  1. Physical Abuse is the infliction of “physical pain or injury on a senior, e.g. slapping, bruising, or restraining by physical or chemical means.”
  2. Sexual Abuse is the “non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.”
  3. Neglect is “the failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.”
  4. Exploitation is “the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit.”
  5. Emotional Abuse is the infliction of “mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts, e.g. humiliating, intimidating, or threatening.”
  6. Abandonment is the “desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.”

According to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), emotional abuse, financial abuse, and neglect are the most prevalent of all elder abuses.

Unfortunately, elder abuse is not a crime commonly reported.  The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that 83 percent of elder abuse cases never get reported.  According to a 2009 NIJ research report, the majority of the elderly’s abusers are people they know.  Through surveys, the NIJ found that the elderly are most likely to underrepresent abuses:

  • That happened more than a year ago.
  • That they did not report them to the police.
  • If the abuser was not a stranger.

Sadly, the unwillingness of the elderly to properly represent or report these abuses is detrimental; the majority of elders surveyed by the NIJ had been abused over a year ago, had not reported the abuse to police, and knew their abuser/s.

How to Protect the Elderly from Abuse

In order to protect your elderly loved one from abuse, you must:

  1. Ensure he/she is in a quality elder care program.
  2. Do research.
  3. Ask the elder care facilities that you visit for their state survey reports.
  4. Visit, inspect, and ask questions.
  5. Ensure that your chosen facility has a proper staff-resident ratio. According to the Health and Human Services (HHS), 90 percent of nursing homes are understaffed. Nursing home staffs spend less than 3 hours total with residents each day (HHS) despite about 4 hours being what the government and expert recommendation for patient care each day.
  6. Check on your loved one frequently.Visit your loved one as much as possible to ensure he/she is receiving sufficient senior care.
  7. Physically check your loved one for signs of abuse. A list of abuse symptoms can be found on the NIJ website.
  8. Know your loved one’s rights as a resident. You can view these rights on the website below or by asking your loved one’s care facility for a copy of your state’s “Resident’s Bill of Rights.”

About the Author: Amber Paley is a guest blogger and article writer specializing in elder abuse prevention. Amber spends much of her professional life writing about abuse in nursing homes.

Photo credit: pedrosimoes7

A System for Selecting an Assisted Living Community

As you have likely learned through reading our blog posts and your own life experiences, the transition to assisted living is a stressful and emotionally charged period of your life. It’s also likely an incredibly scary and uneasy part of your loved one’s life.

In previous posts, we’ve shared information to help prepare you for this moment – the time when you and your loved one will select an assisted living community.

Visit our previous posts for resources on what to look for when researching and touring assisted living facilities. This information can help to convert a chaotic and often panic-filled situation into a calm, thoughtful and logical decision making process.

Now let’s discuss how to select the right assisted living community for your loved one:

Comparing the Finalists
By now you should have collected detailed information on several assisted living communities. You’ve had good and bad first impressions of communities, people, insurance companies and all the things that run hand-in-hand with this transition. For reasons both known and unknown to you, you’ve probably also excluded several communities.

When trying to find a community for my mom, my sister and I looked at many communities before ultimately making a decision. We struggled to find a technique that enabled us to make a decision that satisfied three criteria:

1. Compare all communities across the same attributes

2. Give some attributes more weight than others

3. Deliver an objective, measurable final selection

Why were we so formal? Because we knew that we had put every ounce of our souls into finding the best community we could. We didn’t want to ruin a decision by injecting too much bias into it..

Choosing Attributes

We decided on six attributes on which to make our community selection. They are:

  • Location: the geographic location of the community; proximity to family, friends and shopping; amenities of the community and size/ layout of the apartment.
  • Staff: experience of the executive team; friendliness of the dining room staff; staff treatment of residents and their observed interactions.
  • Activities: activities calendar; personality and demeanor of the activities director; amenities related to activities including transportation, game rooms and other entertainment.
  • Quality of care: the experience of the nursing staff; proximity to fire, hospital and emergency services; rehabilitation rooms and quality of the therapists.
  • Cost: total monthly cost of community at the level of care required for my mother.
  • Gut feeling: you have instincts for a reason. Use them.

Over the last several years, I’ve shared this list with many people and validated that it addressed the vast majority of families. Now that you have a group of attributes against which you can measure your finalists, let’s add a measure of importance to each one.

Weighing Attributes
Different things are important to different people, and you’ll likely have strong feelings about the relative important of one attribute over another. This is called weighting.

Weights are applied by giving each attribute a percentage from 0-100%. Those attributes you deem most important receive the highest percentage weight. The total of all attributes must equal 100%.
It’s important that you apply weights to the attributes before you begin ranking your community finalists. This will enable you to minimize unnecessary bias before the score process.

Ranking Final Communities
Now that you have removed the unnecessary bias from your decision, you can score each community against the others. The score will occur for each attribute above. You will likely find communities will be a leader in some attributes and a follower in others. This is normal.

Armed with this system, you will be able to sift through all of the information you’ve gathered and decide on a community that will meet your loved one’s and your family’s needs.

Photo credit: winnifredxoxo

New Gallup Research Profiles Caregivers in the U.S.

Have you ever wondered whether there are other people out there like you, balancing caregiving for an elder or disabled loved one with a full or part-time job?  New Gallup research sponsored by Pfizer and ReACT (Respect A Caregiver’s Time) provides demographic information about U.S. workers who are also caregivers.

To answer the question above, you are not alone. An estimated 17 percent of U.S. workers do double-duty as caregivers for elderly or disabled loved ones or friends. Overall, 16 percent of working men and 20 percent of working women are also caregivers. The majority of these caregivers (22 percent) are between the ages of 45 and 64 years old. The age group least represented as both workers and caregivers are 18 to 29 years old.

Infographic from Gallup Management Journal.


Caregivers are represented in every major demographic group, with 17 percent of  working whites, 21 percent of working blacks and 20 percent of working Hispanics also providing care. The research shows a correlation between income, education and caregiving. As income level and education level increase, the propensity for a worker to also be a caregiver decreases.

What is the Cost of Caregiving?
The intention of the Gallup research is to highlight how effective U.S. employers are in addressing caregiver needs and what the hidden costs of caregivers missing work are to those employers.

Infographic from Gallup Management Journal.

Below are some findings about the types of benefits working caregivers receive and the cost of caregiving:

  • Less than half of U.S. employees have access to assistance programs where they can discuss any emotional stress that comes along with balancing caregiving and their jobs.
  • Only 27 percent of U.S. workers who are also caregivers have access to support groups or health counselors who can answer any questions about providing care.

Gallup also takes a look at how each type of initiative, from vacation days to flex time and counseling, can impact caregiver absenteeism. Organizations that provide counseling to discuss caregiving options such as assisted living and nursing homes, may see an improvement of 1.2 fewer work days a year missed by caregivers. Support groups will reduce caregiver absenteeism by 1.1 days a year, and paid vacation by one day a year. All of the other options, including unpaid vacation, sick leave and flex time, will make an impact of less than one day per year in a caregiver’s schedule.

Studying ten benefits for caregivers who work full or part time, Gallup finds that if U.S. employers offer at least 8 of these 10 caregiver benefits, it can reduce the cost of caregiver absenteeism by 23 percent of its current level, or $5.8 billion dollars.

The research concludes by offering suggestions for small, medium and large businesses about caregiver initiatives that can have the most positive impact on employees and the bottom line. To review the complete findings, visit Gallup’s Management Journal.

Photo credit: Images_of_Money

An Elder Care Conversation About Senior Activities Done Right

During my research on assisted living communities and elder care, I met a woman whom I consider to be the model activities director. Her name is Terri Glimcher and she is the Life Enrichment Coordinator for Emeritus Senior Living. In addition to her duties at Oak Park Assisted Living in Clermont, Florida, she also serves as a trainer for many other local communities. If her techniques were universally adopted, this chapter would be completely unnecessary.

I’ve spoken to Terri several times during the course of my research, as she is a true expert in her field. She gets it!

To reword our discussion would not serve her great work justice, so I’ve included the entire transcript of our discussion.

RYAN: Thanks for spending the time with me, Terri. The work you’ve done at Emeritus has been amazing.
TERRI: Thanks for the kind words.
RYAN: Let’s go ahead and get started. What is your role at the company?
TERRI: I am the Life Enrichment Coordinator for Summerville at Oak Park Assisted Living, an Emeritus Senior Living property in Clermont Florida. I am also on the marketing team here at Oak Park.
RYAN: Sounds like a lot of hats! Being a marketing guy from a previous life I know what you’re going through. I’d like to focus on the activities portion of your responsibilities. Would that be okay?
TERRI: Sure.

RYAN: What is the role of “activities” in an assisted living environment?
TERRI: Great question! Activities play a very important role in assisted living. It is very important to keep the mind and body challenged and stimulated throughout the day. More importantly, however, is the socialization that comes with activities. It is very important for your loved one to feel connected in their new residence. Activities will help to do this. Activities also help the resident continue to enjoy many things they used to do. This consistency helps with the overall transition to assisted living.

RYAN: That makes a lot of sense. I know it was tough for my mom to transition to assisted living, because she was so active before.
TERRI: What did she do?
RYAN: She was involved in women’s club, some charities and card parties with her lady friends. She missed all that when she got into assisted living, as she remembered what is was like before her stroke.
TERRI: That sounds tough.

RYAN: It was. Anyway, let me ask you another question. What do most assisted living communities do wrong with regard to activities?
TERRI: I only know from many that I have observed that they do not meet the needs of ALL residents. They focus on the mainstream population and often have activities that people with special needs such as physical, visual or hearing cannot participate in. In my community, we make sure that adaptive equipment is in place so that all residents can participate in any activity.
RYAN: That great to hear…
TERRI: I also firmly believe that the residents should have choices in their schedule, which is why a resident council should be in place. This is their home and activities should be available at all times for residents to participate in as a group or individually. That piece lacks in many communities. Another important factor is that the assisted living community should be connected to the local community. Many times residents feel isolated because their whole world revolves around the community. The community is very open to seniors and it is a great way to keep them connected.

RYAN: Your approach sounds really unique. What have you planned that is unique?
TERRI: I really believe that most of my activities are unique in that age never plays a role in what I plan. We are always involved in a community service project of some kind. My knitting class made baby hats for the neonatal unit at our local hospital. We donated 150 hats. They were also involved in the Give a Kid a Backpack Program here. The residents hand-craft a beautiful teddy bear to go in each backpack received by the children. We have made soldier caps that were sent to Iraq, we raised money for breast cancer awareness and many more. Seniors enjoy giving back. They feel a part of a bigger picture.

RYAN: That’s really amazing. This is the kind of thing that probably makes a big difference to the residents. It seems like having a purpose is often missing for many of the assisted living residents I’ve met.
TERRI: Absolutely. In talking with the residents, I learned that not working and not having responsibilities was the hardest part for them. In hearing that, I came up with a list of jobs within our building and held a huge job fair for the residents. Each resident who wanted a job came down dressed up, filled out an application for the position, and was interviewed by me. This gave them a chance to tell me about their former careers and what it was like to work when they were growing up. It was wonderful. They all got the jobs they applied for — floral committee, taking statistics, welcome committee, sending get well cards, watering plants etc. I can tell you that for three years, every one of them has taken their job very seriously. We are a family here, and it takes a family to make it work. They receive $100.00 a week funny money and shop at our General Store.

TERRI: I also started the Bridging the Generations program with all the local high schools. This is ongoing for three years now. The high school kids come to Oak Park and are paired up with the residents. They do projects together, cook together, etc. We celebrate holidays with the students. I bring the residents into the high school so that students learn about the aging process. The students play their instruments for the residents and work on their science fair projects with them. The residents are truly mentors for these students. We have been recognized by the Orlando Sentinel many times for outstanding programs here. One of our greatest activities was “Biker Day” at Oak Park. A local merchant brought their Harley’s to Oak Park. Each resident dressed up in leathers with headbands and posed for pictures on the bikes. We sent pictures to the families saying “And you thought your loved one was at home knitting!” We got a huge response of laughter from all involved. It was a blast!

RYAN: (Laughs) That sounds incredible. You really owe yourself a pat on the back for such great work! Can you please send me a picture of Biker Day? That sounds awesome!
TERRI: Sure, no problem.
RYAN: So, in your opinion, how have the residents benefited from those unique activities?
TERRI: The residents feel a part of the community. They truly see that they make a difference. They are loved and respected by so many people in this community. The merchants come here to do activities with them. The local florist does flower arranging, Home Depot does workshops with them, Ritters Frozen Custard makes sundaes here, and we have a merchant that sets up a fruit stand in our lobby with fresh fruits and veggies that the residents can choose at no charge. They feel very connected. It’s not just being part of their residence, but still maintaining a sense of community. That is important factor in maintaining good emotional health.

RYAN: Very cool. How do you mix physical and cognitive activities?
TERRI: I do a lot of physical and cognitive activities. I run a cooking class. We have measuring, kneading, peeling, cutting, those are all good ways to combined both physical and cognitive. We bowl and golf both in the community and out. The residents keep the score. We play twister with word games. Scavenger hunts, walking club, following a map to the destination. Most of the activities have both components as a part of it.
RYAN: I really appreciate your spending so much time with me. I am learning so much. I have a couple more questions if that is okay?
TERRI: Sure, happy to spend the time with someone who’s so passionate about it.

RYAN: Thanks! Ok, so what would you recommend from an activities perspective to readers evaluating assisted living communities?
TERRI: I think it’s very important to ask a lot of questions. You want to make sure that there are activities going on all day that include, physical activities, crafts that include a product that the residents can take to their rooms, outings, and cognitive activities. You want your loved one to be able to make choices in his or her schedule. A big component is to find out how they will help your family member connect when they first come in to the community. “What can you do to help my mom or dad connect if they do not want to come out of their room?” You should also make sure that there are outings outside of the community and that there is community involvement consistently. If people are sitting in the lobby with no activity, chances are that is the way it will be when your loved one lives there. Look for resident participation – talk to the residents. They are the best indicators of what truly goes on in the assisted living community. They will tell you if they are active or not. Stimulation is very important. If you don’t use all your faculties, you begin to lose them. Make sure each and every part of your loved one is being challenged daily.

RYAN: Last question. Do you have any other advice for the readers?
TERRI: Take the time to look around at different communities. Talk to residents; request a report from the Department on Aging for the state survey of the community. You can request it from the community as well. They have to show it to you. That is the law. This will give you the information on any violations the community has had. It covers resident care as well as dietary issues. This is an important piece of information to have. There are agencies that are able to help with the cost of assisted living. If you are a spouse of a veteran or a veteran yourself, there are ways to receive help. Look in to all options before making your decision. Remember, this is your family member’s home. It should not have a community feel but the feel of being home.

Terri’s activities plan is not the norm, although I wish it were. However, it should serve as an example of the kinds of things available to your loved one.

Unfortunately, many assisted living communities follow our typical day example rather than the fine example Terri has described. Do not be lazy about finding a community with good activities. It is a major social and emotional outlet for your loved one.

Photo credit: visual.dichotomy