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Tips for Client Social Engagement

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Patricia, a senior home care professional, hit on the idea of assembling model planes with her client, Warren, almost by accident. She knew social engagement played a vital role in helping Warren enjoy his life and stave off isolation and depression, but her previous attempts to chat with him didn’t go well. Although he didn’t have dementia, he didn’t seem to keep up well with current events. He liked to talk baseball, but Patricia…well, she didn’t know a thing about sports. The situation led to lots of conversations that went nowhere and ended with awkward pauses.

Then one day Patricia overheard Warren talking to his grandson on the phone. “You finally got the Flying Fortress put together?” Warren asked with excitement. “That’s terrific!”

Patricia followed up with Warren to find out what he had been talking about and discovered he and his grandson shared a love of building model airplanes.

“At least I used to, when I was younger – before arthritis got the better of my fingers,” Warren commented in a wistful tone.

It turned out Warren had a couple of half-finished models in his closet, so Patricia pulled one out. Between the two of them, they were able to finish it by the end of the day.

“That was such fun,” Warren said with a big smile. “Maybe we could do the other one next time.”

As Patricia discovered, socially engaging clients doesn’t have to hinge on conversation. In fact, activities often can engage clients better than chat, especially with those who have Alzheimer’s or another cognitive issue. You can try these tips to engage better with clients.

Activities to Engage with Clients who have Dementia

Cognitive conditions like dementia may affect short- to medium-term memory, but long-term memory often remains intact until the very end.

Use this knowledge to engage people with cognitive decline by thinking about the types of activities that shaped their youth. You can try:

  • Listening to the radio. For many older adults, radio played a key role in their youthful social life. Listening to talk radio or classic tunes can be enjoyable on their own, or they might provide fodder for conversations.
  • Looking at old photos. Ask the client to bring out photo albums, if available, and invite them to tell you the stories behind the pictures.
  • Writing cards. For many older adults, the mail represented a primary communication method. You can help the client compose and mail greeting cards to relatives, and maybe they will receive some in return.
  • Watching an old movie. Enjoying a favorite classic movie together can provide valuable bonding time, no chit-chat required.

Activities to Engage with Clients without Cognitive Decline

Stimulating the brain with fun activities can help keep cognitive dysfunction at bay for clients who remain mentally sharp. Try these suggestions:

  • Prepare a meal together. If you care for someone who put a hot meal on the table for the family every night, cooking together can bring back happy memories.
  • Go for a walk. For clients who are able to ambulate without assistance, getting a dose of fresh air and sunshine may be just the ticket. You can stroll together, look at trees and flowers and discuss the client’s favorite plants or memories of exotic locales.
  • Solve a puzzle. Depending on client preferences, the two of you could attack a jigsaw puzzle or try solving some Sudokus together. Problem-solving activities like these can help sharpen cognition.
  • Try crafting. Easy craft projects not only allow you to engage with the client, but he or she can feel a sense of productivity by creating small gifts for loved ones. Tailor the craft to the client’s artistic preferences and skill level. The internet holds millions of possibilities for finding easy craft projects of all kinds.
  • Try container gardening. If the client enjoys flowers, the two of you can plant some posies in small containers. Having plants in the house or on the patio not only provides visual interest but gives the client an opportunity to nurture a living thing.

Encouraging Family Members to Visit

As a senior care professional, you may have seen situations where a client receives very few family visitors. Sometimes family members stay away because, like Patricia, they don’t understand how to engage on a level other than conversation. This can lead to awkward pauses or visits that feel like a failure.

But visiting is vital not only to the well-being of the client but to the family members, too, even though they may not realize it. Help relatives understand that visiting a loved one will provide a way for them to ensure the person’s care is adequate, show the family member they are loved and experience their own peace-of-mind in knowing they are forging a meaningful relationship with their family member during the final years of that person’s life.

When appropriate, you cannot only encourage family members to visit more often but give them the tools to succeed. Share stories of activities you’ve found successful with the client and suggest they try them, too. Offer to help them create visits that enrich both the client and the family. If appropriate, suggest they bring a pet with them to provide a focal point for the visit.

Client engagement is a key skill for any senior home care professional. With a few basic principles in mind, you can use your own creativity to personalize engaging activities according to a client’s unique interests and abilities. And know you’ll be helping to improve clients’ well-being with every visit.

Last revised: May 4, 2018

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