I have never been a fan of putting “Activities are subject to change” on my activity calendar. I do understand why it is necessary and at times unavoidable . Even the best laid plans can change up, cancel out or just down right fail. When planning our activities we all want our programs to be engaging and meaningful but at times our planned events just never get off the ground. Even Bingo which is a facility favorite for many doesn’t always work in my building or with my clientele. What may have worked or been a favorite activity in October may not spark joy or interest in January. In my community which is a CCRC we have many levels of care and that is especially true in our Health Care facility. Our Skilled area has short term rehab as well as differing levels of dementia care.
So, the question is what can we do to provide a meaningful activity in a pinch? What do we switch to when an activity fails? Push your refresh buttons on an old idea and put a new spin and your own spin on an activity that has been around for years.
Most people that have been in the field for a long time remember the sensory boxes and memory boxes. These were shoe box sized, themed conversation starters that could be used in small groups or in room visits. Each box had a different theme such as baseball, gardening or cooking. During COVID these boxes had a resurgence of popularity when we were forced into strict one on one activities and visitations. Now that we are thankfully able to hold our group programs again I am finding that my residents are enjoying the socialization of community living more than ever. They love reminiscing, history, art, storytelling and the sharing of life stories and experiences. When I feel like an activity is not being well received or is not working well for my audience I pull out “my box” of conversation starters. Admittedly my box of reminiscing ideas is much bigger than a shoe box and in fact is a large hefty storage box. Within this large tote I have smaller containers filled with various topics and categories. I call my program “What’s In the Attic ?”. Other names I have seen for this type of program are” Grandmother’s Closet” or “Hidden under the bed”. Many of the items I have did come from the attic of my old family home and some of the items were picked up in antique shops, second hand stores or were donated by family members. I think it is important that everything you discuss or share should be passed around for people to hold. It ignites the discussion process and sparks memories. I also suggest that the best layout for these groups is in the round which makes the sharing process more welcoming. If possible include items that men like as well as your ladies’ . This is particularly helpful if you also want to single this out as a men’s group at some point. This activity works really well for most levels of dementia and my higher functioning rehab patients really enjoy it.
Some of the things I have in my Box of Treasurers include :
Coins – Various denominations and countries. The Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea coins and two dollar bills are interesting because of their limited production. Coin sets and minted collections, wheat pennies and state quarters.
Stamps – Both vintage and new releases from the post office.
Postcards – Both vintage and new. Travel brochures and memorabilia.
Old Magazines – Mine are dated 1929-1947 but anything before 1970 should work. Better Homes and Garden, Life and American Home. It is great to talk about fashion and advertising. There are so many prominent advertisements that are taboo in today’s world such as smoking , lead paint and the “Vacuum cleaner to make your little lady happy”.
Old kitchen gadgets and tools.
Old Letters – it is fun to try and decipher the looped and elegant writing in these letters.
Various Fiber arts – Tatting, lace, quilt samples, aprons, embroidered pieces, handkerchiefs, baby clothes.
Marbles, toys, books and photographs.
I am not suggesting that you have all of these things I have mentioned in your collections. Start small with a few items and build it up. I have been adding to my “attic Box” for many years. You can take this whole idea one step further and add your discussion groups to include your staff member’s collections. You would be surprised at what people collect and the joy it brings them to share and discuss the things they love. My staff members have shared spoon collections, wind -up toys, Pez dispensers and star wars memorabilia.
My next plan is to get an old steamer trunk to store all of my treasurers in. I feel like it will add a measure of mystery and magic to our program. I have no idea where I will store this trunk but it does me no good just sitting in the attic.
Julie M. Cooley
NAAP Regional Director – South