LeadingAge Magazine · March/April 2013 • Volume 03 • Number 02

Top Ten Elements of a Comprehensive Life Enrichment Program

March 03, 2013 | by Michael McCann and the Lifestyles Team at Friendship Village of Schaumburg

This provider’s life enrichment program takes wellness programming to the next step—beyond good health and personal growth and on to the benefit of families, neighbors and the surrounding community.

A fully comprehensive life enrichment program in a retirement community hits all five dimensions of wellness—emotional, social, spiritual, physical and educational. In some literature a sixth dimension, occupational, is added. It is defined as recognizing personal satisfaction and enrichment in one’s life through work.

Basically it all boils down to three components that define life balance and are needed for improving and maintaining quality of life: mind, body and spirit. At Friendship Senior Options, we believe that to have a true comprehensive program, a resident’s life in your community will start as a personal journey of growth and enrichment but then extend to affect not only the resident but also family, neighbors and the surrounding community.

At Friendship Senior Options, we have identified we have identified 10 things that your team will need to help individuals grow—a development that can then create a culture dedicated to the pursuit of personal and community goals.

1. Person-Centered Care Philosophy
Sometimes we are not here because the resident remembers us, but because we remember the resident.

At our core we are working to help each person we serve find a voice. Chaplain Shawn Kafader says, “I work hard at finding out as much as I can about each resident I meet. That way, if a time comes when the resident cannot remember the details of their life I can share a fact or memory that shows that I remember them. For example, if a resident liked to play golf I might greet them saying, ‘How’s my golfing buddy Joe?’ This usually brings a smile and instantly connects us. When I talk about my work with those unfamiliar with the aging population, some wonder what I do all day working with dementia residents. I often say, ‘I spend time reminding them of who they are and what they have enjoyed in life while creating new memories to cherish for today.’”

2. Opportunities for Socialization
Many seniors complain about not having companionship—some through the loss of a spouse, others through the loss of friends and finally the absence of family. Loneliness and isolation are among the leading causes of depression, sickness and decline in overall health and wellness. There is a great wellness, spiritual and cognitive benefit in providing opportunities for residents to develop friendships with other residents. In order for this to take place, we need to provide the opportunities for friendships to form.

Activity Manager Donna Brown says, “One simple yet very important program for friendship development is the CCC—Coffee, Cookies and Conversation. Residents come together in an informal atmosphere to socialize. Another program that offers not only friendship, but encourages self-esteem is arts and crafts. How many times have I heard one resident say to another resident “You’re doing a great job!”

Providing programs that give residents the time and opportunity to connect enriches our residents’ lives.

3. Technology
Using the latest social media, having residents in health care Skype with family members, or performing a dance off on the Kinect for Xbox are all ways to encourage residents to not be afraid of technology and to be a living part of today’s culture.

“Don’t be left behind; embrace technology and watch it help give new life to your activity program. Not only is it a wealth of resources for program ideas and supplies, but it can be a tool for success in fun new programs,” says Jeff Rose, lifestyles production and volunteer coordinator.

4. Community Outreach for Residents
For an individual to successfully age, a campus should offer opportunities to help individuals strive for something bigger than themselves, building self-worth and creating leaders and advocates within your resident population.

“Senior citizens can deeply improve their quality of life by volunteering,” says Jeanette Magdaleno, life-long learning and community outreach volunteer coordinator. Studies have shown that volunteerism can contribute to residents living longer and improving brain function. The community benefits and so do the seniors. So, it turns out that volunteering not only is a good thing to do, it’s actually good for you!”

5. Resident-Driven Philosophy
It takes residents and associates working together to change the culture. Staff should not just be putting on “puppet shows” to entertain, but act as advisors for residents to create and engage with programming. This celebrates and promotes individual skills and talents, and sharing them helps to create a culture of change.

“One program at Friendship Village is the ‘In-House Schoolhouse,’” says Magdaleno. “This is where residents give presentations to other residents. Residents speak about their life experiences. One resident, who taught chemistry, spoke on climate change. This type of programming is essential because it gives value to past life experiences.”

6. Creative Leadership
Staff needs resources that go beyond scheduling traditional programs such as card groups, group exercise or bingo.

Talent management is critical in developing the staff’s leadership, empowerment and creativity. Beyond an annual review, one also needs to develop a "tool box" for activity managers and leaders to build upon over their careers. This tool box should include skills in marketing and community relations, strategic planning, hiring and leading creative teams, advocating against ageism and public speaking.

Exercise Physiologist Jessica Enriquez says, “The community should be able to provide a staff that works as a team unit and applies updated skills and knowledge of their field.”

7. Diversity in Programming
While we like to reminisce on our pasts, it is important not to lose focus on the here and now as well as tomorrow. Regardless of age or physical limitations, we can always learn new skills while celebrating old favorites. Social engagement, recreation and just having fun are the keys to life balance, stress reduction and health.

“Adaptation is especially important for activity professionals because it allows individuals to stay active, helps to provide a sense of self-worth and allows individuals to feel good about themselves,” says Emily Riehle, Briarwood Health Care activity manager.

Your activity program should offer a vast array of social opportunities for your seniors to celebrate life. These range from card groups to special events, family programming, trips and entertainment.

“Remember that wellness is not a thing to do, it’s a way of life. It heals all; the mind, the body and the soul. Without it you are allowing your body to become more susceptible to illness. To go places you have never been you must do things you have never done,” says Enriquez.

8. Partnerships
A buzzword within our field is “silos” and how to break them down. In order for a life enrichment program to be successful, there can be no silos, as partnerships must occur within the departments of a specific organization or with local community organizations. Activity staff need building operations to help set up for programs, dining to add food and layers to entertainment, the front desk to assist with program or trip sign-ups and communication, etc. If there is any department that exemplifies inter-disciplinary teamwork, it should be the activity team.

Developing community partnerships adds tremendous benefit. They help get residents involved in local churches and not-for-profits, help community leaders advocate for your organization and bring additional programming opportunities.

One good example of this is our annual Silver Games. We started these senior athletic events by partnering with our local park district. We now collaborate with multiple organizations such as our local park district and YMCA, and involve all of our organization’s campuses.

Rose adds, “This year’s games were a great example of community partnership and celebrating seniors.” The fifth annual Silver Games had 282 seniors participating. The competition, for individuals 62 and older, spanned four days and included 42 different events offering friendly competition in physical fitness events like swimming and mental fitness events like Sudoku.

9. Benchmarking
There is a distinct correlation between marketing and what your activities offer your organization. Marketing creates a promotional message for a target audience and communicates this message efficiently. Your programs and your entire activity department is really the public-relations wing of your organization. If your marketing is explaining why that senior should belong, it is your programming that creates the culture and the community in which that adult can thrive.

The organization’s activity program must be providing:

  • More than just a physical fitness program and bingo
  • Choices of how to live life
  • Programs that offer personal journeys of growth and enrichment
  • Programs that impact not only residents, but their families, neighbors and surrounding communities
  • Tools to help each individual grow—growth that then creates a culture dedicated to the pursuit of personal and community goals

If you consider your programs as the public relations department, you can start looking at your activities in a different light. You can start to see various ways your programs can be promoted to help communicate your organization’s marketing message.

If your programs can be noticed in various media sources, you can also quantify what you are able to achieve for a wider audience. This can start with something as simple as writing a press release for your local news editors.

10. Creativity

It takes a special person to work in activities. Activity associates have to be artists. An artist creates something from nothing. This goes beyond just listing things to do on a calendar. An activity associate is responsible for creating a culture through effective programming opportunities. They have to act as counselors, spiritual guides, teachers, mentors, fitness gurus, and experts on pop culture and current events. This resonates through the programming and special events. The opportunities offered must go beyond birthday parties, card games and holiday parties. Try a science fiction party, host your own “Renaissance Faire” or even have a living history event such as a Civil War re-enactment.

In each senior’s personal journey, he or she has the opportunity to make new goals in all dimensions of wellness. It takes the participants working together with the activity associates to create a culture of celebrating life. This is accomplished through leadership, strategic planning, working the creative process and elevating the professionalism of the activity team.