“We have three mantras,” Anne Stacy, the lead Activity Director for AGE’s Adult Day Health Centers recently told me. “First: You’re never too old to learn. Second: Tolerance. And last: Use it or lose it.”
Anne joined AGE earlier this year and immediately elevated AGE’s Adult Day program with a host of fresh, vivid, innovative activities. But despite her positivity and exuberance, what motivated her most at the start were the failures of the rest of the industry.
“A lot of adult day programs just give clients busy work. And it’s not age appropriate. They give adults activities that are meant for children.” In the for-profit sector, Anne had seen groups of older adults placed in unguided “reminiscing circles,” where they would simply stare off with no stimulation. She had seen adults given children’s coloring books filled with cartoons.
Sometimes, she admits, our clients want to color. “It’s calming,” she said, “I like to color!” It presented a paradox: how do you make a sophisticated coloring activity for adults? Staff responded by introducing complex Buddhist mandalas made from colored sand, block printing workshops, and drawings that corresponded to clients’ individual histories. One member who has a lifelong interest in clothes colors drawings of women’s fashion; another, an art lover, illustrates Renaissance paintings.
This approach is emblematic of what we do in Adult Day Health Care: clients are given activities specifically tailored to their needs, giving them purpose, meaning, and strengthening their mental health.
Rachel Whisenhunt joined AGE a few months after Anne as Activity Director 2 and infused her approach with new activities stemming from the latest possibilities of technology. Members gather around a big screen to look at their childhood homes on Google Maps. They travel the world through webcams, watching live feeds from the Galapagos and Japan. They take day trips around Texas and visit artist’s studios on YouTube.
Clients began leading their own activities by popular demand. One member teaches conversational Spanish to those who want to learn. Another, a lifelong artist teaches painting to his peers.
When activities are mature and cognitively engaging, they lead organically discussions between the whole group about big topics: history, civil rights, media, politics, mental health, art. Chronically quiet members have begun contributing their voices.
“Soon,” Anne told me, “I realized that every day we’re having enriching, deep, intellectual conversations over coffee: that’s what our clients want. So why not?”