Since I specialize in Alzheimer’s care, you can imagine that I frequent quite a few nursing facilities. I often have the pleasure of being invited to be a guest speaker at many events regarding dementia. Recently, on one of these occasions, I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with an activity director. Since she is new at this position she was quite interested in my opinion on several activity projects she was putting together for her dementia residents. She remained in attendance for my entire presentation and I noticed her taking copious notes on whatever advice I had to give. It was obvious that she was very dedicated to her new position.
Later, as we had the chance to talk, she was candid in sharing that she was running into conflicts with other staff members. I assured her that her job was to facilitate recreational and therapeutic activities for her residents and she was not there to make the jobs of her co-workers easier. Granted, team-work is essential, but her responsibility is to make sure her residents are still living a quality of life that still contains some activity.
We need to make sure that dementia patients, and all patients for that matter, are not just sitting around deteriorating. This is why I’ve always emphasized how important the job of an activity director truly is.
One of my favorite communities is the Arden Courts. They specialize only in dementia care and their rule of thumb is, “Let’s not worry about what they cannot do anymore, but concentrate on what they still can.”
As an effective activity director, one must possess a special set of skills so as to do this job proficiently. Most of these come naturally as a gift and cannot be taught in any university.
First you need to be confident and friendly. You need to be the so-called “social butterfly” of this community. It takes a certain personal magnetism to encourage the unwilling to participate in social functions. To do this you must have great communication skills and patience, especially when dealing with those who are suffering from dementia and are constantly progressing further into their disease.
Whether these directors are scheduling bingo games, sing-a-longs or simply having each patient take turns being the community Post Master of the day, it takes a constant knowledge of what task each resident can still perform. This is where a personal relationship with patients comes in handy. If you sit down an advanced dementia patient in front of a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle, you most likely just-made matters worse for everyone.
The job may sound easy to some people, but trust me, trying to keep a couple of dozen patients active is not an easy task. This is why I call them “unsung heroes” because their role is vital to their patients and they truly don’t get the recognition they deserve. Many activity directors are doing their job alone, without any assistance.
The fact is that just because someone’s heath issues have brought them to the point where they are living in a care facility, this shouldn’t mean their social world has to come to an end.