Making the most of every single day: the fine art of activities planning

Over the course of pretty much every lifetime, we’ll all see friends and loved ones faced with a dementia diagnosis. Given the ubiquity of the condition, it’s reasonable to have lots of questions about its impact on everyday life. In truth, those impacts vary widely from one person to another – and, over time, for each individual. As dementia advances, and the prospect of residential memory care shifts from distant possibility to imminent necessity, it’s only natural to grow increasingly curious about the day-to-day details of life in an assisted living environment. And while we can’t provide details on other memory care environments, we can say this with confidence: there’s rarely a dull moment at The Mooring.

That’s not to say we’re always on the go, because we’re not. At The Mooring, we’re big believers in balance – and quality down time is every bit as important as livelier pursuits. So we take a lot of time and care in building each month’s activity schedule, working diligently to satisfy the unique passions and preferences of each of our 12 housemates with a blend of individual and group activities – both in the home, and in the surrounding community.

Planning for perfection – but eager to adapt

Like nearly everything we do at The Mooring, our programming decisions are informed by the specific preferences of our housemates. Once a month, our resident council comes together to share thoughts on the activities to include on the monthly programming calendar. Guided by our Director of Programming, we process housemate input – and suggestions provided by their friends, families, and our care partners – and start sketching out the coming months’ activities.

Because it’s an open forum, suggestions run the gamut. And while we can’t indulge every inclination, our Director of Programming works closely with our Director of Recreational Therapy to determine which requests will work, which could be modified to work, and which to file away for further consideration. This review process is vitally important, because the two directors have a clear sense of each housemate’s strengths – and of the challenges that may make some activities a poor fit.

As we develop the calendar, we work to meet each housemate where they are by including a range of activities. In some instances, a housemate may find greater satisfaction in more individualized pursuits. In others, group activities may prove more engaging. Some prefer the familiarity of The Mooring’s grounds. Others welcome the chance to venture out. Ultimately, when the calendar takes its final form, most days will provide at least one activity ideally suited to each housemate.

Programming essentials

No matter the time of year, our calendar typically includes more than 150 planned activities per month. As a rule, we try to include one off-site activity every day – even though off-site activities require more planning, supervision and communication than activities pursued on-site. Not surprisingly, assembling up to a dozen housemates for a field trip is no small task. We begin the process with careful communication, both to each individual housemate, and to the care partners assigned to accompany them. We aim for a housemate-to-care partner ratio of 3:1, which ensures plenty of support at every stage of each adventure – from getting ready and boarding the outbound bus to participating in the designated activity and getting home safely.

In addition to our offsite adventures, each day on the calendar typically includes 3-4 in-house activities. While most of these activities are designed for groups, they’re often altered to accommodate individual needs or preferences. And because housemates aren’t always on the same schedule, these can often be made available when, where, and ultimately if a housemate chooses to engage. Activities at The Mooring are entirely elective, and no one is compelled to take part in any pursuit that doesn’t strike his or her fancy.

So what, exactly, do we do?

We’ve talked a lot about the importance of activities. Now it’s time to share some insights on what those activities actually are. So, for those who’ve endured thus far, here’s just a partial list of a typical month at The Mooring:

  • Book Club – through the use of traditional and audiobooks, these guided sessions keep housemates engaged and interested.
  • Restaurant Meals – we pick our favorites, set up a reservation, and settle in to sample some of greater Portland’s well-known gastronomic hot spots.
  • Walking Group – either with Mick (our house canine) or with others, this pastime is popular and beneficial to both physical and mental well-being.
  • Grocery Shopping – this may sound mundane, but it’s surprisingly popular with housemates, who enjoy the familiarity of routine and the opportunity to shop for their favorite foods.
  • Paint Night – self-expression and self confidence go hand-in-hand.
  • Happy Hour – familiar, social and engaging, housemates enjoy camaraderie, conversation, and a welcome sense of familiar social involvement
  • Baking/Cooking Sessions – our big, open, country-style kitchen is ideal for communal food prep.
  • Dance Party – a regular favorite, often paired with “name that tune,” our dance parties get pretty lively.
  • Animal Shelter Visits – puppies and kittens. That’s really all we need to say about that.

Family engagement

In our efforts to support an environment that feels as natural and familiar as possible for each housemate, nearly everything we do at The Mooring is family-inclusive. Family participation increases housemate involvement, bolsters supervisory capacity, and enriches experiences for everyone involved.

Naturally, we always exercise extreme caution to ensure housemate health and safety. When a housemate or a family member is under the weather, we’ve embraced technology to maintain close connections. Because many of our activities are in-house, the use of FaceTime, Skype and other video conferencing technologies allows family members to take part – even if they’re out of sorts, or simply out of reach.

In many cases, we’ve been fortunate to see many family members who frequent our activities become extended family members to the entire Mooring community. In several instances, their involvement has continued even after their related housemate has passed on, secured by the relationships they’ve formed with other housemates, their families, and care partners alike. In turn, that ongoing participation provides current housemates with a sense of familiarity and continuity – further adding comfort and security to day-to-day life.