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A look at the Activity Professional in Nursing Homes, Assisted Livings and Continuing Care Communities.

Updated on February 24, 2014

Let me begin with what the state regulations ask of the Activity Professional.

First of all to be a Director of the Activity/Recreation Department the individual must hold the following"

Sub Chapter 8:39-8.2

The Director must have a Bachelor's degree from an accredited college/university majoring in therapeutic recreation or creative arts therapy. Or be certified through the National Certification Council of Activity Professionals also known as NCCAP.

This is very important as it outlines the educational knowledge the Director needs to oversee the department. Experience is not enough. This is required through the state and federal guidelines.

When state surveyors comes in to for the facilities annual survey; they are not only looking at the other disciplines such as nursing, dietary, housekeeping, social service and so forth. They will be looking at the activity programs and calendars.

So lets read some facts: I will keep them as simple as possible.

There are seven criteria's that a Director should focus on and so will the state.

  1. Social Programs such as parties, clubs and special events.
  2. Physical Programs such as exercise, ball toss, bowling etc.
  3. Creative Programs such as arts, crafts, ceramics, poetry and drama.
  4. Educational and Culture such as groups, guest speakers, international meals.
  5. Spiritual and Religious for all denominations.
  6. Awareness programs geared towards residents with Alzheimer's/Dementia such as Sensory Stimulation, Aromatherapy.
  7. Community Programs such as volunteer programs, pet therapy, adopt a grandparent.

So when you look for a nursing home for your loved one pick up a calendar and also observe the programs in action.

It is difficult for our loved ones to adjust to living in health care facilities. Sure we can make their rooms very much like home. But guess what? It isn't. There is a transition that takes place and often it is not easy.

The Activity Department plays an important role in this transition. They are the people who promote fun, games, music and art therapy. There are coffee clubs, men's and women's club, discussion groups, outings, spiritual programs, entertainment and parties. It is not an easy job. I should know I am a Certified Activity Director with an Associate's and Bachelor's degree in Health Care Administration. I have been in long term care for 12 years.

Sometimes there are residents who are not social. That's okay because that is their right not to participate. However we as Activity Professionals should not forget about them. We can always invite, cater to their religious preferences. Maybe they don't want to go to church but would like communion or a bible to read. We should have a room visit program. What do we as Activity Professionals know about this resident's past role in society. We can incorporate that into a visit. Or maybe he or she just wants someone to talk and listen to them. Never forget the resident's who self isolate.

The regulations state that the Activity Department should include individualized programs and small and large group programs. But don't just do it to be in accordance with the regulations. Most of the individuals who enter this field did it for the compassion, empathy and reward of making our residents happy. I know I did.

Of course the regulations guide us to how often we should conduct programs and then there are advisories that let us know what the time frame is. For instance activities should be held seven days a week and at least four nights a week.

However sometimes these same regulations are outdated. In one advisory it states we should have one full time activity staff member to 44 residents. Well that doesn't work in the school system why should it work with our senior population.

The regulations also state that resident's should get 55 minutes of activities per staff per week. Look at our calendars. We as Activity Professionals go above and beyond.

I wrote this article to commend our Activity/Recreational staff members. They work with a diverse population from Alzheimer's/Dementia, Long term alert and oriented, short term rehabilitation residents, resident with developmental difficulties and the list goes on. The ages have varied over the years. It is not just 65 and older. More facilities are getting residents in their 40's and 50's. This means we now must embrace the technological aspects of activities. The baby boomers.

Next time you visit your loved one in a facility. Or maybe you are taking a tour for the first time. Look at these wonderful people who conduct the activities. The smiles from them and the residents. The happiness they bring, but more important the happiness they receive when a resident laughs, claps at a party, wins at bowling. It is a precious thing. Of course our nursing department, dietary, housekeeping, laundry, maintenance and social service department are vital to health care facilities. I just want you as an individual to look at the Activity Department and Staff. Remember we as employees appreciate when you acknowledge us.

My dad is in a nursing home. Currently I am not working, so I've seen things from a staff point of view and now a family member's point of view.

You are wonderful people Activity Staff and I commend you for what you do. Yes it truly is nice to hear those words. Not just from other residents or bosses or co-workers. But from the family members as well.

For more information on nursing home regulations for the Activity Department in the State of New Jersey please visit the following website.

Below are some wonderful pictures of residents and activity staff. See the joy for both of them.


Plenty of Activities:

Resident's love Bingo but there are so many activities to choose from.

Bingo is a good way to promote physical and cognitive strength.

Concentration and hand and eye coordination is vital.

The best part is when that resident yells BINGO!

Arts and Crafts

Arts, Crafts and Ceramics

Many of our resident's were crafty in their previous roles.

Why should they lose that now?

Remember to choose crafts that are fitting for their dexterity.

I myself frown on craft kits. The pieces are too small to be seen or handled.

Look in your supply closet and get creative.

Provide assistance, but don't do it for them.

When a resident completes a craft or art project it brings him or her personal satisfaction.

Red Hat Tea Party

Red Hat Society

Oh yes they still exist.

On a weekend vacation I spotted some elegant ladies.

They were having lunch at a restaurant.

They were dressed in Red and Purple.

This is a creative and social activity.

The resident's love to dress up.

And tea and cookies in the afternoon

make it a wonderful treat.

The Staff

As my article states; don't forget the staff.

Always smiling.

Creating joy.

Bringing laughter and happiness.

Compassionate individuals.


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    • lisavanvorst profile image

      Lisa VanVorst 2 years ago from New Jersey

      That was a wonderful thing you did. You brought happiness to your neighbor and bringing at pet into a nursing home brings such joy to the residents. Many of them had pets and had to give them up when they entered a nursing. I have certified pet therapy dogs come in twice a month and many residents who rarely smile, have the biggest grin on their face when the dogs come to them to be pitted. Thank you for your kindness to those in nursing homes, especially to those who have no family members or family members who for what ever reason, never visit their loved ones.

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 2 years ago

      This was very informative. I had an elderly neighbor in a nursing home this year until she passed right after in January. She had no family in town to watch out for her. I used to visit but there is only so much a non-family member can do. I did take my dog and try to make friends with the staff and her fellow residents to hopefully get her better care. The activities director was a big help in getting my dog certified as a welcome guest. My dog was treated like a celebrity. Not only did my neighbor enjoy her, but residents and staff materialized out of nowhere whenever she was there.

    • lisavanvorst profile image

      Lisa VanVorst 2 years ago from New Jersey

      Thank you aviannovice for reading this hub. I am a Director of Recreation in a nursing home. Our residents love our pet therapy dogs that come to visit. Pets and children who come bring so much joy and smiles to our residents. I am glad that you have volunteered your time to visit facilities such as mine. Thank you for doing so.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This hits home with me, as I had been part of several of these as someone that was invited to be with the residents. When I lived in DE, I volunteered with K9 Partners for Life. That organization trained dogs as helpers to keep folks at home longer, like dogs that sensed epilepsy and provided help to those without dexterity. Recently, in OK, I have spoken at an assisted care facility, as well as a housing development for seniors as I am knowledgeable about wild birds. All of these experiences have been wonderful and I enjoyed the happiness that they brought with questions, as well as former experiences that the residents told about.

    • lisavanvorst profile image

      Lisa VanVorst 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Christine please see my comments below. Thank you for reading and replying.

    • lisavanvorst profile image

      Lisa VanVorst 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Thank you Christine and often nursing homes get a bad rap. However there are so many good ones. Do what you are doing for your sister and see that the activity staff provide her with in-room visits. They too can read to her, provide churches to come in and visit or provide communion if she is Catholic. Does she like animals? Many activity departments have pet therapy dogs or cats that can visit with her. Does she have a tv in her room? When you are not there make sure the nurses put on her favorite shows to watch. There is so much the activity staff and nurses can do to ease your mind when you are not there.

    • lisavanvorst profile image

      Lisa VanVorst 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Normally one Activity Director. The staff varies. Nursing homes have more activity staff, assisted living facilities, independent living have less. It also goes according to the census.

    • WordlawMinistries profile image

      Wordlaw Ministries 4 years ago from Chicago

      Hi lisavanvorst, this was a very good article. Glad you can give residents such wonderful living. How many directors are in a typical nursing home? I know there is a DON (Director of Nursing) and Dietary ? What does the entire staff consist of? I guess you started something here.

    • Christine P Ann profile image

      Christine P Ann 4 years ago from Australia

      Great article and very timely for me. I have, just before Christmas, moved my eldest sister (67) interstate to be closer to me. She needed to go into a nursing home due to her intellectual disability and frailness and because she like time on her own I worry that she is missing out on the benefits of group participation in hobbies etc. Her carers are very attentive but there is little to do in her room where she chooses to spend much of her time. I have taken to reading to her and she loves it immensely but I would like to do some other activities with her and finding this difficult as she has never really had any hobbies as such. She does love going out for coffee and cake but this puts a strain on the budget when she asks to do it three times a week. Keep up the good writing :)

    • lisavanvorst profile image

      Lisa VanVorst 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

    • kikalina profile image

      kikalina 4 years ago from Europe

      Love the staff pic :)