If you ask individuals what motivated them to move to an independent or assisted living community, many will tell you that it was the robust class schedule and unique programs available. Seniors today are interested in an active lifestyle and spending time doing the things that they love.

As a senior living provider, it’s your job to ensure that programs and events help residents to do just that. But how do you know if your programs are engaging residents on a deeper, more meaningful level?

In my experience, the key to truly engaging residents is two-way communication. We ask what makes residents thrive, or what makes them tick. Then we tailor programming accordingly. From bird watching and fishing, to photography and the arts, residents are looking for classes and clubs that keep them inspired to learn new things and keep doing what they love.

Developing a class schedule around these interests can be much easier than you think. Below are three simple ways to enhance programs and engage residents.

1. Survey residents about their interests.

Regular surveys are a great way to document likes and dislikes, as well as hobbies, passions and interests. This information can be extremely helpful to your activities professionals when they are planning new programs or assessing the current program calendar.

2. Track the success of current programs and events.

Take attendance at each event. A walking or reading club may be popular at one community, whereas programs such as current events discussions and world history may be better attended at another. Take inventory of which programs are your top performers and then plan more events around those topics, being sure to continue any programs that really resonate with residents, even if with just a few.

3. Establish an open line of communication.

Talk to residents on a one-on-one basis. Ask residents what they are enjoying about the community and what they would like to see more or less of. Attending resident events and programs also is a great way to get feedback and see firsthand how residents interact with speakers and presenters.

At The Fountains at Lake Pointe Woods, this three-tiered approach helped us discover the large group of artists that call our community home. Knowing this, a former executive director took an unused part of our community and turned it into an art studio for our residents. It was a relatively small investment that is worth its weight in gold.

Residents now meet in the art studio every Wednesday to discuss their passion and exercise their creativity. In addition to weekly meetings, these residents get together once a month to toast to their “Artist of the Month,” whose artwork is proudly displayed in our community. The community provides complimentary champagne to celebrate the occasion.

For less experienced artists, or those looking to learn a new skill, we also offer a number of classes through Watermark University, including “Photography as Art” and many others. These classes and groups have created an opportunity for strong bonds and lifelong friendships to form.

Open communication and regular feedback from residents not only results in a more interesting calendar of events and happy residents. It also creates a vibrant culture, attracting even more individuals to the community. The result is a thriving community and a truly interesting place to live and work.

Peggy Beasley is executive director of The Fountains at Lake Pointe Woods, an independent and assisted living community located in Sarasota, FL, that is part of Watermark Retirement Communities.

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