Social engagement is vital to senior care residents, but facilitating it can be a challenge. With obstacles to social engagement common in senior living settings, senior care communities need to take an active approach in facilitating resident engagement
The Importance of Social Engagement
Socialization is critically important for senior care residents. “Socialization is the first line of defense against isolation
, loneliness, and cognitive decline,” says Michelle Weinstein, CTRS, CDP, therapeutic recreation supervisor at Goodwin Living
. “Isolation can lead to depression
, which has emotional and physical effects on the brain and body. Socialization is the first step to meaningful connections with others.”
One benefit of socialization, according to research, is increased cognition. “Interesting conversations can help our brains maintain function and recall,” she explains. “Once a resident starts talking about their favorite animal, or place, it can bring back happy memories and increase one’s quality of life. We experience this often at our Goodwin Living communities.”
Obstacles to Social Engagement
According to Weinstein, the cultural changes resulting from COVID-19
have made social engagement more difficult in senior living communities. She explains that, after having been quarantined for so long, residents are more likely to stay in their rooms. “Residents can also still be timid when it comes to socializing due to the possible spread of infection,” she says. “It can take encouragement and fresh programming ideas to entice and excite residents to participate and engage.”
Mobility issues may also prompt residents to avoid social engagement by making them feel insecure or embarrassed. “A change in physical functioning
, such as using a wheelchair or walker, can make residents hesitant to participate in programs or events,” she says. “It is important to promote activities that are adaptable to every level of care, need, and changing cognition. At Goodwin Living, we find that by promoting a healthy sense of aging and providing a welcoming environment, we can encourage everyone to participate.”
Strategies to Facilitate Engagement in Senior Care Settings
Weinstein explains that the Goodwin Living team focuses on person-centered care and engagement, building trust, and interpersonal relationships. By getting to know each individual and their interest, passions, and purpose, the team can use that information to create events and individual opportunities for them to engage.
She also highlights the importance of matching a resident’s energy levels. “Some residents may prefer a large group activity, while others may prefer quiet solo or small group interactions. We want to provide the best opportunity for engagement that matches the individual’s preferences and energy,” says Weinstein.
“We also use validation to truly meet the person where they are in their personal journey of aging, brain health, and cognition
. This means we go with the flow and accept where each individual’s strengths and needs are at any given time.”
Monitoring Resident Social Engagement
Monitoring resident engagement can help a senior care community identify when residents may need extra support. Weinstein explains that Goodwin Living Life Plan Communities monitor engagement in multiple ways. By taking attendance of residents who participate in programs, the communities can track which programs have the most and the least engagement, contributing to program evaluation and improvement.
Additionally, staff observe resident engagement when programs are carried out, including observing which residents are actively engaged or passive, and whether they are socializing with peers or quietly sitting. Noting these observations helps team members evaluate how residents are responding to programs and how engaging different activities are.
“Monitoring engagement can also help us see warning signs that a resident may need extra support,” explains Weinstein. “Maybe a resident is not regularly attending the programs that they used to. Maybe they have become less vocal or less engaged in programs. Sometimes they do not want to come out of their room much at all. These are all warning signs that a resident may need extra support. Observing any kind of decline in an area, such as socialization or engagement level, is usually an indication that a resident needs additional support in some way.”
Providing Additional Support to Residents
When it comes to providing residents with extra socialization support, Goodwin Living uses multiple methods. Support starts with one-on-one visits to check in with the resident and determine how staff may be able to help. If the resident is feeling more tired lately or isn’t interested in current activities
, the team might offer alternatives, like one-on-one activities. Team members can also direct residents to activities happening off the floor, like special groups that meet during the week.
In cases where residents don’t remember the program times or forget to look at the schedule of activities, team members can make sure to visit with the resident to give them reminders or escort them to programs of interest.
Goodwin Living will also modify programs so that residents are fully able to participate. “They may have difficulty hearing, or their vision is getting worse,” explains Weinstein. “If that is the case, we work to ensure that the resident is seated in the front during programs and instructors are speaking loudly and clearly enough for all residents to hear. It is always a good plan to work together with the interdisciplinary team if a resident needs additional support. This provides an opportunity to discuss the resident’s needs with the social worker and/or the nursing team to talk through how the resident can be better supported.”
Strategies to Improve Resident Engagement Levels
Senior care communities looking to improve their resident engagement levels should start by ensuring that the programs offered are ones that residents are interested in attending. “Ask your residents what they enjoy doing and what programs they may like to see,” Weinstein recommends. “Does your schedule of activities offer a variety of programming geared toward differing interests? For example, is programming varied so that there are physical, social, intellectual, creative, and spiritual opportunities? Are you ensuring that your team is successfully relaying the day’s programs to residents and getting them excited about participating in the activities of the day?”
Weinstein also recommends that senior care communities post a daily schedule of activities in an area where residents can easily see it. Creating flyers for unique programs like special events, celebrations, and music performances can also help drive engagement.
She also highlights the importance of evaluating current programming to identify areas that could be improved or adapted. “For example, if you find that your biggest attendance during the week is trivia or lectures, then that would tell you that your residents really enjoy engaging in intellectual or cognitive-based programming,” Weinstein explains. “Gauge your residents’ interests to see where any additions could be made. Are residents looking for more outdoor or outing opportunities? Are residents interested in social opportunities with residents not on their floor? This could be an opportunity to have resident volunteers come to lead a program, such as a music program or a lecture pertaining to what they did during their career.”
Weinstein notes the importance of creating programming that aligns with residents’ interests and comfort levels. That might start by adding small groups for residents who might not like being in groups of 10 or 15. “Even a small coffee and chat in the afternoon or specialty groups like creative writing could increase engagement levels for residents who don’t usually come to the larger group programs,” Weinstein says. “Increasing engagement levels start with knowing what your residents are interested in and having a team that facilitates these programs with encouragement and enthusiasm.”