Why Activity Professionals are the Unsung Heroes of Senior Living Communities

In senior living communities, activity and wellness coordinators do so much more than rely on Bingo, holidays, and religious services as the only calendar items for older adults. As seniors stay active longer, and as research into the causes of aging advances, it has become clear that older adults need more stimulation and honest engagement to have a longer and better quality life.

All of us (older adults included) need activities that engage the mind in strategy, creativity, and communication. Residents in senior living communities also need activities that engage the body, heart, and soul, and offer opportunities for personal expression. It’s hard enough for most (20 – 55 years of age) to achieve this kind of balance and full engagement in our own lives, but Activity and Wellness Coordinators consistently provide these opportunities for every senior in their care. How do these unsung heroes do it, and how can we better support them?

The Scale of Activity Planning

The sheer scale of activity planning is something to marvel at. Our assisted living management software has seen over 5.1 million activities scheduled and conducted on a regular basis. Activity planners are rising to the challenge of providing the kind of diverse and engaging programming that our senior residents deserve.

Activity coordinators felt additional pressure over the last two years as other sources of enrichment, from visits with families to quick trips to go shopping, became inaccessible. Many activity and wellness professionals needed to modify their normal scheduling to compensate and give older adults in their care a sense of community while keeping them safe during the pandemic.

In fact, Activity Coordinators have such a direct impact on the well-being of every resident that they may be the people who are best able to help seniors cope with tough situations like pandemic restrictions and even the most anticipated life challenges, such as a new diagnosis or a new source of grief.

The scope of Activity Planning goes far beyond residents alone! Those who build the programs are often in the critical position of helping to support the morale of staff at senior living communities, too. When there is joyful activity on the premises, everyone benefits!

Key Challenges for Activity Planners

Activity and Wellness Professionals need to be focused on other people, often neglecting their own work-life balance. Their challenges are vast and were recently discussed in this interview between Justin Godderis, CRO at InTouchLink and with Matt Reiners, Co-Founder of Eversound. Some highlight of the chat include:

Catering to Different People

We all want seniors to live their healthiest and happiest lives, but the particular challenge of this goal is that every senior is different. Whether it is gardening, poker, painting lessons or Tai Chi, what sparks interest in one person undoubtedly bores another. With limited resources and space for activities, offering the right mixture of engagement to provide everyone in the community fulfillment is an awfully tough job.

Becoming a Jack-of-All-Trades

While a physical therapist need only be in tune with a resident’s physical condition, a psychological therapist their cognitive/emotional life, and an aesthetician their appearance and self-esteem, Activity Professionals need to be aware of all these pillars of resident happiness. Truly, they need to provide for the whole person, which means largely supporting every aspect of a senior’s life, with and not limited to social connection.

Facing Burnout

With all of these demands on them, it makes sense that Activity Professionals face high levels of burnout. They may be working with full calendars that keep them too busy to complete other tasks. They may arrive to the building early and stay late. Or they may take on the empathetic obligation of using all of their emotional energy to support other people’s lives too intensely. Even in the face of staff shortages, staff may feel pressured to maintain the same schedule, even when it no longer makes sense. This is all a recipe for burnout.

Personal Health Challenges

There are many health stressors of working in the activities department, and this has been especially true over the couple years. Activity and Wellness Professionals need to interact with multiple residents per day, and when group gatherings are allowed, need to lead them. This increases their risk of catching transmittable infections and at minimum, offers anxiety associated with the risk of contraction. Activity coordinators know firsthand how important gatherings are to resident fulfillment, and when the need for social connection and the need to avoid infection conflict, it’s natural for them to be discouraged or anxious.

How to Support Activity and Wellness Planners

In essence, we can better support our activity and wellness superstars in two ways: Supporting and Listening. First, these professionals need the right tools to tackle their to-do list. That especially includes software to help them manage their calendar and daily tasks, which is often overwhelming without simple processes in place.

Second, Activity and Wellness Professionals need to be heard and have “say.” They are often the people most in touch with the long-term needs of the residents and are often untapped sources of wisdom. To most benefit seniors, wellness staff need to have a voice at the table and a say in the decision-making dialogue which provides solutions that support the business, community, residents, families and most certainly, themselves. Activity and Wellness Professionals are angels on earth and we all know it.

Contact Us to learn more about how InTouch Link can help your activity and wellness professionals!