Michelle Sayre headshot
Michelle Sayre

Armed with lessons from the pandemic, we’re now more creative, energized and excited to plan activities for our residents.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit senior living communities in March 2020, community life was dramatically altered. Suddenly, regular activities such as fitness classes, local outings and happy hours were put on pause, and social distancing was the new norm.

For activity directors, planning activities took on a new challenge. Suddenly, we were tasked with keeping residents engaged and connected without large gatherings or in-person events. Now more than two years into the pandemic, we’ve learned ways to get creative and plan activities that meet recommended Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Creative programming

At The Fountains at Lake Pointe Woods in Sarasota, FL, we’ve taken tried-and-true activities and found creative ways to offer them to residents. For example, rather than in-person happy hours, we launched a happy hour bar cart. Our team walks door to door and delivers wine and appetizers to residents while playing music through the hallways.

We’ve also leveraged our in-house TV channel to stream educational programming, movies and concerts, and we host fun challenges such as our photo scavenger hunt. Each week, our team posts five items for residents to find around the community, such as a shadow or something upside down. When they find an item that fits the description, they take a photo. The first resident to find all five items and email our team the photos wins a prize. Prizes also are given out for most creative and fun. Pictures then are displayed on our in-house TV channel for all to see.

Those simple changes to our residents’ favorite programs have allowed us to offer them in new and exciting ways. Although it certainly was a challenge reimagining activities, looking back, it taught our team a great deal. Here are a few things we’ve learned that we hope to take with us going forward.

1. Remember your goal

The goal of an activity director is to find ways to keep residents engaged and connected while also offering unique and interesting programs. When you keep this at the heart of your planning, it’s easy to stay focused when faced with new challenges. When it seems overwhelming, or even impossible, focus on the smiles on your residents’ faces when they enjoy an activity.

2. Start with what you have

When looking for ways to reimagine activities, start with what you have. Consider the happy hour bar cart or socially distanced bingo. Those popular activities were planned using tools we had onsite — a bar cart and our in-house TV channel. When it comes to creating socially distanced activities, considering the tools you are already using. Technology is a huge asset here and should be leveraged as often as possible.

3. Connect with others

During the pandemic, some of our best ideas have come from other activity directors around the country. Early on, I joined a Facebook page specifically for activity directors, where we exchanged ideas and offered support. This group brought us some of our best activities. Regular team meetings also were a great source of creativity. This collaborative approach made altering our programs much less daunting and created an inspiring calendar of events for our residents to enjoy.

Although eventually the COVID-19 pandemic will end, there’s so much we are taking with us. And who knows, maybe some of our most popular pandemic activities will stay on the calendar due to resident demand.

Michelle Sayre, CTRS, CDP, is the community life director at The Fountains at Lake Pointe Woods, an independent and assisted living community in Sarasota, FL.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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