Since I specialize in Alzheimer's care, you can imagine that I frequent quite a few nursing facilities. I often have the pleasure of being invited to be the keynote speaker at many events regarding dementia. Recently, on one of these occasions, I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with an activity director. Since she is new at this position she was quite interested in my opinion on several activity projects she was putting together for her dementia residents. She remained in attendance for my entire presentation and I noticed her taking copious notes on whatever advice I had to give.
Later, as we had the chance to talk, she was candid in sharing that she was running into conflicts with other staff members. I assured her that her job was to facilitate recreational and therapeutic activities for her residents and she was not there to make the jobs of her co-workers easier. Granted, teamwork is essential, but her responsibility is to make sure residents still have a quality of life that contains some activity.
We need to make sure that dementia patients, and all patients for that matter, are not just sitting around deteriorating. This is why I've always emphasized how important the job of an activity director truly is.
As an effective activity director, one must possess a special set of skills so as to do this job proficiently.
First you need to be confident and friendly. You need to be the so-called "social butterfly" of this community. It takes a certain personal magnetism to encourage the unwilling to participate in social functions. To do this you must have great communication skills and patience, especially when dealing with those who are suffering from dementia and are constantly progressing further into their disease.
Whether these directors are scheduling bingo games, sing-a-longs or simply having each patient take turns being the community postmaster of the day, it takes a constant knowledge of what task each resident can still perform.
The job may sound easy to some people, but trust me, trying to keep a couple of dozen patients active is not an easy task. This is why I call them "unsung heroes" because their role is vital to their patients and they truly don't get the recognition they deserve.
Just because someone's health issues have brought them to where they are living in a care facility, this shouldn't mean their social world has to come to an end.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc cared for his father for a decade after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His books, "Managing Alzheimer's and Dementia Behaviors," "While I Still Can" and the expanded edition of "Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness" can be found at www.common sensecaregiving.com.