I didn’t realize how much I missed being a part of the “action” in a long-term care facility until I began volunteering in one. You probably don’t hear the words “action” and “facility” used in the same sentence very often, if at all. And if you do, your immediate thoughts might not be positive ones. But what I’m talking about are the good times. Yes, thanks to the recreational departments, there are satisfying and enjoyable times in long-term care facilities.
Before planting myself with MPW I worked as an LPN and Social Worker in a nursing home and often had opportunities to engage with the residents one-on-one or in groups.
As an MPW employee, I have the privilege of volunteering once a month as an assistant with the activity department of an assisted living facility. When I walk into the room most of them are already seated and waiting eagerly to get started, especially for Bingo! I get excited because I know that for the next hour they are going to engage in something that they actually enjoy – it’s their time. For the next hour they don’t have a strict regimen to follow. It’s going to be a pleasurable experience for them, which for some can be few and far between as they age.
Bingo is one of my favorite games to play with the residents. When you have the floor, calling out bingo numbers, it’s easy to put a little spin into the game to make it more fun. Believe it or not, there is some skill involved when calling out Bingo numbers to a room full of older people. Remember, their hearing isn’t always 100%, so I have instructions that when I call out a number I have to say the letter and number followed by a repeat to clarify the numbers. For example, when I call out “G-fifty-four”, it’s followed by “G-five-four”. One of my favorite numbers to call out is “I-twenty-two” because when I repeat it I say it to the tune of a choo-choo on a train: “tooo-tooo”! And they all get a kick out of it! Some even join in with me. Other times, I make silly rhymes with some numbers or when I call out the number 25 I tell them that’s my real age (I get funny looks with that one).
I’ve gained a faithful friend during my time calling out Bingo numbers. Every time I walk into the room, there he is sitting at the same table saving me a seat. And he always has 2 pieces of hard candy for me. Sometimes he’ll surprise me and give me 2 pieces of chocolate candies! We chat a little and joke a little during the game. Who knows, maybe it’s a bribe I just never caught on to. But the point is that it’s something we both look forward to.
Other activities promote cognitive thinking. One game I helped with was a word game. A short sentence was written on a white board and everyone had to think of words using the letters from the sentence and the words were written on the white board to avoid repeats. By the time we were finished the group had over 130 words covering the board. It was impressive!
One of my most favorite things to do while volunteering with elders is engaging in conversation. The elderly are so full of knowledge and wisdom – they are like walking history books. I love to hear their love stories, what it was like to serve in the military, their most cherished childhood experiences, what they learned in their careers, and especially asking them for advice in a particular personal situation, etc. Most of them truly enjoy sharing their thoughts, feelings, memories and advice. I believe by them sharing, it lifts them out of the feelings of insecurity and discouragement. Making them feel valued and maybe useful again. Even the Bible tells us how important our seniors are to us. 1 Chronicles 29:28 says: “a good old age, full of days, riches, and honor”; Job 12:12 says: “With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding.”
Seniors are important people in our society and should be valued as such. If you’ve never volunteered for a senior or a group of seniors I encourage you to try it and not just volunteer to do it but engage in meaningful conversation. If you’re not sure where to start, here is a link to help: http://createthegood.org/campaign/volunteeringwithseniors
And here is a link listing some great questions to get a conversation started: