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Have you ever found yourself just a few hours into your shift having already completed your client’s personal care needs…and wondered “Now what do I do?”

No worries…you got this!  

“Downtime" can be the perfect opportunity to get to know each other a little better, resulting in a more meaningful connection and enjoyable experience for both of you.   By engaging in pleasant and stimulating conversation you can learn more about the person and discover new ideas for activities that will bring them a sense of joy and purpose.  Start by doing a little “detective” work and then… get creative!  

Whether you’re caring for a person at home or in a senior living community… the key is to consider their interests and former occupation to determine what kind of activities might interest them.  Here’s a few tips on how to go about this…

Ask Questions… such as “Where were you born? What was your favorite subject in school? What kind of work did you do before retiring?” If the individual is unable to tell you, try asking a family member or colleague if they know of any ongoing passions, personal hobbies or defining moments in that person’s life they’d be willing to share.

Listen Closely… to their answers to discover likes/dislikes, favorite work experiences and/or life-long passions.

Watch Closely…observe the individual’s reactions to different people, situations, and events.  

Okay… now that you’ve learned some new and interesting details about the person whose care you’ve been entrusted with, try out a new activity idea… and see how it goes. Don’t be discouraged if your first try isn’t successful. Remember the old saying… "If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!!” Read below to jumpstart your creative process…

Different Kinds of People and Corresponding Activities they may Enjoy:

The Homemaker – For those individuals who primarily took care of the home… you might offer a cloth for them to dust framed family photos or cherished, decorative objects.  Ask them to name who is in the photos and/or if they remember where the object is from? If a lighter task would be more appropriate, ask them to “help” you fold towels or give them a stack of colorful paper napkins to arrange.

The Parent/Caregiver – Have you ever noticed how people with dementia brighten up and take note when babies and children are around? Interactions with children and babies have been a normal part of many people’s lives. Often when a person is living in a facility or at home and not getting out often, they no longer interact regularly with kids. You can help create opportunities by going on a walk together to a local park or playground. If appropriate, you might ask them about their own children and tell them about yours!

The Office Worker – An individual who spent a significant amount of time sitting at a desk, working with papers, might enjoy the “job” of sorting a pile of documents or carrying around a notebook and pen to write down information, phone messages, etc.

The Gardener – Was the individual and avid gardener? Provide them with a place to plant seeds(a cup on the windowsill will do,) water, and watch them grow.  They may also enjoy simple, flower arranging with an inexpensive bouquet from the grocery store. Use every opportunity to take them outdoors to enjoy the seasons gorgeous flowers and gardens.

The Sports Fan – “Read” the Sports section of the newspaper together. Inquire about their favorite sport, team, or player. Is there a “big game” they’d enjoy watching on tv? Arrange the schedule around it or se if can be recorded to view later. Perhaps they would get a kick out of sorting through or organizing baseball cards, etc.

The Animal Lover – If your client loves pets, ask about having a cat or dog visit on a regular basis. Is there an aquarium or bird cage in the community you could regularly visit together? Some people are comforted by holding a stuffed kitten or puppy, stroking its fur. They also might connect by paging through a picture book about their favorite animal.

The Teacher/Reader or Writer – Often, people who have been wordsmiths all their lives are still capable of doing crossword puzzles, word searches, scrambles, and many other “brain games.”  Doing these activities regularly will not only only sharpen memory and cognitive skills but can provide a real sense of satisfaction! Pick up an inexpensive, large-print word puzzles book and give it a go! Also, people with substantial vocabularies often enjoy a good game of Scrabble, utilizing cognitive and social skills at the same time! Have some different word game options sitting out for them to do when the mood strikes.

The Engineer – Does your individual have an innate curiosity about how things work? Do they like to put things together? A former engineer might really enjoy “building” with Legos or small, wooden blocks… an activity they can do repeatedly with different results each time. Many people also like working on a jigsaw puzzle… try a simple one to start and gauge their level of interest.

The Artist/Teacher – Provide plenty of colorful supplies to inspire the creative process. Non-toxic clay, colored pencils, washable markers, watercolors, and paper are all great choices for tactile stimulation and help to strengthen the hands as well. Make something beautiful together!

The Musician – If Music is what makes your senior come alive, offer opportunities to use this gift! Ask if they have ever sung in a choir or musical group. How about a sing-along? Make a point of learning favorite songs you can play for them on YouTube.

The Faithful – For many people, as they age, the importance of spiritual nurturing increases. Offer books of faith in keeping with their tradition or encourage times of prayer and/or meditation. Just listening to favorite hymns together can be a lovely experience for both of you!

In summary, remember that we all need to feel useful in life. The object here is not to have the individual do large amounts of tasks… but rather… to give them something familiar and meaningful to do, providing an opportunity to succeed in a purposeful and joyful activity.

Molly Healy is our Social Engagement Specialist with Capital City Nurses. She has worked with the elderly for many years and truly loves to mentor our caregivers. For more great ideas to engage those for whom we provide care, visit our Pinterest Board

Posted On
June 29, 2021
Molly Healy