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Not Just Bingo

When people learn that I am a Director of Activities at a healthcare facility, their response often begins with a remark such as, “Oh, so you are the person who organizes Bingo games for nursing home residents.” I have been an activity professional for over twenty-six years, and I have become far more than the “Bingo Organizer”. Those years of experience have allowed me to develop and employ a wide spectrum of activities that enhance the quality of life of each resident in my care, even residents who are challenged by severe dementia.

At Gates Manor, I have initiated the Rainbow Medley Program. This program allows me the most effective way to communicate with persons with dementia and low cognitive abilities. The program utilizes the senses of taste, smell, touch, sight, and movement.   Over my years of work in the activities field, I have experienced just how effective such sensory stimulation can be. Residents who seem “out of touch” suddenly come to light as you look into their eyes, hum a popular melody, and all the while gently hold and touch their hands.

For some residents with good cognitive abilities, Bingo is still an enjoyable activity. However, other residents have never played Bingo in their lives and much prefer thought provoking programs such as group discussions about history or current events. Another popular activity is sharing “life stories”.  Residents share colorful stories about their youth, working life and home life. Such programs enable residents to sense that they are not cut off from the rest of the world, the world of those who come and go in their lives.

Of course, trips outside their current home enhance feelings that residents are still members of the larger community.   That is why a trip by our residents to a production of the holiday musical “Scrooge”, was such a huge success. In the spring and summer month’s trips to local parks for picnics allow my residents to enjoy the natural beauty of Montclair.

I work to offer a wide variety of musical programs. Residents, just like all of us, love music. I draw on a diverse group of entertainers who offer a wide variety of live music. At these programs, activity staffers work to actively engage residents in singing and/or dancing to the music. Even a resident in a wheelchair can dance, as the activity professionals take their hands and sway with the music. They key to success in all activity programming is the successfully engagement of the residents. If that goal is not achieved, then we revert back to those images of nursing residents just staring into space.

I have been fortunate to enjoy the support of a vibrant and strong volunteer team. Activities programming is greatly enhanced by committed volunteers. In my case such volunteers have included students from local schools, such as Deron School, Students who have provided programs twice each month for five years. A wonderful group of volunteers from the Brookdale Community Church have just celebrated their anniversary by presenting a weekly musical and poetry program which the residents really enjoyed. The key to their success is the joyful, loving, and compassionate approach to their volunteer activities. Other volunteers, such as Montclair High School Students, have participated in one on one visit with residents. These intergenerational encounters really enhance the quality of life of our residents.

Of course, I am always concerned with the enhancement of all aspects of our resident’s daily lives. That is why I have emphasized with all care givers that they are really part of an overall program which makes a conscious effort to engage residents in all of the activities of daily living.   This avoids the negative image of nursing home staff moving about without engaging their residents. The whole atmosphere changes dramatically when the staff chats with residents as they feed those who need such care, or nurses greet residents by name and chat with them as they administer medications.

As a Director of Activities, I work each day with other departments so that an overall team approach evolves to address the activities of daily living of our residents. The goal is that we treat residents at all times as persons who have a right to lives of dignity, and indeed, a right to love and joy in their lives.

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