"Are You Coming to the Activity?"

After my grandma moved to the supportive housing complex she now lives in, we had high hopes that she would get out more and have different people around. This has definitely proved to be true, as she's now out of her room for 3 meals a day, an evening snack, and attending activities.

Well, some activities.

Getting involved - or not?

At first, my family and I tried to avoid scheduling visits during activities. Sometimes we would check the activity schedule and phone my grandma to see if she was in her room and what her plans were.

At first, we could hardly find her in her room when we called - except that one time her phone somehow had come unplugged for a week, and nobody had any idea! So, it seemed like she was going out to things, which was great and exactly what we'd hoped would happen after she moved into this new facility.

However, as we inch closer to the 3-month mark, she is gradually attending fewer activities. There could be a few reasons for this. One initially was that most activities were happening in the courtyard, and the weather was getting cooler.

As my grandma has gotten older, she has become sensitive to cold, and not wanting to go outdoors with temperatures cooling off is pretty reasonable. The staff on her floor said many of the women were not attending activities outdoors as things cooled off.

The issue is, of course, now things have moved back indoors, she is still out of the habit of going to activities!

The invitation: We're going where?

I identified another potential barrier when we were visiting one day. That day, the staff did knock on her door while we were visiting and asked, "Are you coming to the activity?"

Well, that day, of course, she told them she had company and wouldn't be coming, thanked them, and that was that. Within minutes, I created a note with the phrase, "Are you coming to the activity?" Because, um, we're going where? Doing what?

Taking a moment to explain

I used to volunteer at a nursing home with many folks with varying support needs, including Alzheimer's. Here's how those interactions went:

"Hi [name]! We're going down to the multipurpose room to play shuffle bowling. Do you want to join us?" Often, this was followed by the resident asking, "Will you take me there?" (Absolutely!) "Will you bring me back?" (Absolutely!) "Okay, yes, I'd like to come."

Then we'd invite them to meet us at the elevator or walk them to the elevator and ask them to take a seat until everyone had gathered and we were ready to start taking people downstairs.

Well, if high-school, unpaid volunteer me was inviting people to activities this way, I was a bit shocked at the lack of information provided to my grandma by this companion. Hello, people deserve to know what they are doing and where they are going in order to make an informed decision, and people with dementia are not necessarily going to ask these follow-up questions when it is much less work to just say "No, thank you."

The difference between 10 extra seconds of explanation and being vague could be the difference between a person getting an enjoyable or enriching experience and a sense of community... Or staying in their room.

Straight to the source

The day we watched this unfold, my mom asked the companion what the activity was - it was bingo, which my grandma was not interested in. But, after we got home, my mom emailed the client services manager to get some more context and provide some constructive feedback.

The client services manager followed up with the recreation team, and they did say my grandma does frequently attend activities. This is always a question we have since it is often difficult for her to recall what she did that day or for us to know what actually happened and what did not. Sometimes the best thing to do is go straight to the source.

We also recognize, too, that my grandma is 87. If this were 10 or even 5 years ago, we might have more concerns if she wasn't diving into more activities. But given many of the peers she lives with are 5 or 10 years younger, her desire to do a bit more relaxing is understandable!

Plus, they do play bingo a fair bit... and she has never liked bingo all that much!

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