It’s hard to underestimate the role of small group programming in senior living communities. Quality small group programming can dramatically improve the quality of life for residents in your care.

After a year of uncertainty and dramatic changes in your ability to deliver programming due to COVID-19, it can be tempting to settle into a routine of programming that just checks the boxes. Additionally, recent staffing shortages in the industry may have further cut into your ability to plan and implement new small group strategies. Understandably, senior living staff often feel compelled to spend most of their time tending to the immediate care needs of higher needs residents. As a result, the engagement needs of residents with lower therapeutic needs may fall through the cracks. According to LinkedSenior’s State of Resident Engagement report, “Many times, engagement options provided in senior care consist of no more than the 3Bs: Bingo, Bible and Birthdays”.

We now know that limited resident engagement can contribute to increased use of psychotropic drugs, which in turn translates to increased costs and potentially harmful side effects. We all deserve to live out our elder years with a sense of community and meaning. The World Health Organization defines wellness as a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This distinction points to the centrality of engaging, high-quality programming in senior living communities.

With an average of 1 engagement staff person per 60 residents, there is a clear need for activity professionals to optimize their time planning and implementing small group programs. In the following post, we will set your senior living community up with some tips to maximize your time and reinvigorate your programming.

1.Implement check-ins

First on our list of tips is to engage in regular check-ins with your residents regarding your small groups. Whether formal or informal, regular check-ins ensure your programming is hitting the mark with its audience. Being open to feedback is key! Additionally, these 1-on-1’s will give you the opportunity to ensure your programming is accessible across the varying physical and cognitive needs of your residents. According to LinkedSenior, 80% of senior care residents suffer some form of cognitive impairment or dementia. During this time, you’ll also be able to assess the hearing needs of participants, and whether or not they are being set up for success. Further, check-ins allow you to gauge residents’ interest and engagement in certain activities, as well as to gather new ideas for topic areas and activities.

2.Increase resident autonomy

Next on our list is to increase resident autonomy in your small group programs. To achieve this, consider alternating resident “co-leaders” to increase residents’ sense of purpose and agency in the activities. An added benefit of increased resident autonomy in your programming is that, depending on your care demographic, residents may eventually become confident enough to facilitate their own groups without the assistance of an activity professional- freeing up valuable time for you and your staff to assist higher needs residents.

3.Shake things up

Another important thing to remember in improving your small group programs is to shake things up! While folks in memory care situations may require more structured and predictable groups, residents on the other end of the care continuum can benefit from a little spontaneity. This may mean facilitating your group outside every once in a while if appropriate or even going on relevant field trips to enrich the engagement experience.

4.Plug into resources

Our next tip to improve your small group programs is to take make the most of available resources. In a previous Eversound post, we highlighted top engagement resources available to senior living activity professionals. These resources can save you a ton of time brainstorming engaging small group ideas and can prevent your programming content from ever getting stale. Check em out!

5.Be willing to adapt

To make your small group programs the best they can be, your senior living community has to be willing to adapt. Successful programs of any kind regularly evaluate their impact. It’s important to check in on your goals for your small groups and to be open to switching gears if you’re not seeing desired results.

6.Utilize technology

Our final tip to improve your senior living community’s small group programs is to utilize new and innovative technology that’s now available to activity professionals. As we mentioned before, ensuring accessibility is key to small group program success. With tools like Eversound’s listening system, residents can personalize their headsets to their individual hearing needs- ensuring that everyone in your groups is able to fully engage in the activities.

Plus, Eversound’s extensive activity programming can take the guesswork out of your small group planning, and serve as inspiration and enrichment for your residents’ groups.

There are many tools now available to senior living communities to optimize small group programs. With these tools, resident engagement can go far beyond bingo and watching tv, and provide real stimulation and meaning for residents. In this way, residents in your care can thrive, not just survive.

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