When I first came to live in a nursing home I was not very interested in participating in facility activities. Bingo was a big deal here, but I am not a bingo fan. But one innovative activity director had several theme based activities. That first spring on one particular day several staff dressed up in “Gone with the Wind” type gowns. The female staff looked darling in their outfits and we residents enjoyed it. That first Easter they put a large basket in the front hallway. It was brightly colored and two people could probably have fit in it. That year also our maintenance woman made fabric-covered, stuffed, bunny pins which she handed out to staff and residents. After 12 years my bunny pin is still pinned to my bulletin board and when I look at it I think of her.
That first July the local county fair outing was canceled due to rain. The activity aides were dejected and were trying to compensate for the residents’ disappointment. They asked me to compete in a spelling bee with an older gentleman who had been a typesetter. The activity aides told me that there was no one to compete against him and they felt I was the only one who would be any type of match for him. I agreed to participate though I had no desire to beat him. I was surprised to see that they used a large dictionary to choose words. They began to call words and we each got them right. This went on for several minutes until they finally gave the former typesetter a word that he missed. I did win but the man was an amazing speller.
When I was asked to go on group outings, I was a bit leery. I was used to striking out on my own with the help of a caregiver. I knew that traveling in a group would require me to be very patient. I did find out that those who must use wheelchairs are always loaded into the van last because the tie downs are in the rear. I went on a couple of outings that first year. One day we went to a local dairy drive-in to get takeout ice cream. It was a hot summer day and the temperature was 95° or above. It was so warm that the van air conditioning was not cooling very well. But the residents were up for a ride and ice cream. By the time we got back and after waiting to get out of the van I was really cooking. We did have one resident fall on her way back into the building. After that the administrator no longer allowed resident outings when the temperature was above 95°.
Late that summer I went with a group to a restaurant 20 miles away that specialized in home cooked chicken dinners and luscious freshly baked desserts. Our residents loved it. Some wanted to eat their dessert first which I thought was utterly charming. I sat beside a 92-year-old man who talked about his days on the farm. I remember that trip like it was yesterday because I enjoyed observing the other residents. I also remember how stuffed I was on the ride home.
Since I was an atypical nursing home resident, the activity staff spent extra time trying to make me feel comfortable. They frequently invited me into the activity room when they were getting ready for or cleaning up after an activity. I would keep them company and occasionally they would give me a snack. It was nice and it was a restful port in the storm for me in the beginning.
Many of us residents enjoyed going to the Friday afternoon socials. They featured snack foods… which I never had at home. Also residents with a doctor’s order were allowed two cans of of 3% beer. The residents, mostly female, enjoyed their two beers and at one Friday social the small dining room was packed with 44 residents. The chips and dip were always appealing either with a beer or a pop.
Another activity was cooking club where all manner of things were conjured up in the microwave. One activity aide made holidays very festive by making fudge in the dining room while the residents watched. She usually made peanut butter and chocolate fudge. The residents got to watch all of this and then partake of the sweet treat.
When I had been here two years my niece, then 12, wanted to play the piano for the residents. She was used to recitals and we thought this would bolster her confidence. We set it up like a real concert and my sister even made fliers for the occasion. The residents really enjoyed the piano music and some residents talked to my niece and congratulated her. I found that amazing since some of them hardly ever spoke but they really responded to the sound of music.
Many residents enjoy the church services held here. Since I am of another faith I did not attend, but sometimes I sat outside, listened to the music, and sang along. The one consistent thing has been the Mennonites who come to sing one Sunday evening each month. It is so wonderful to see their fresh, shining faces with the ladies dressed in brightly colored long dresses and the men in black. They sing a cappella harmony that is so lovely that you would think the angels of heaven had just descended in all their glory.
Last year activities took several residents to a Chinese buffet restaurant. I helped guide residents through the buffet and an ambulatory resident along with the activity aides transported their trays. The residents smiled more and moved better because they were enjoying themselves. They also eagerly helped each other. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we stayed another hour. Prior to that outing activities we had no idea that so many residents liked Chinese.
Our activities are beginning to change. Recent outings have included a trip to the Columbus zoo and to a casino in West Virginia. In the future there may be other activities that reflect other resident interests. I also hope that someday residents will have more diverse activities right here in the nursing home where they live.