Wayne Langley

Anyone who has worked at a retirement community, for even a short length of time, has encountered a resident that never receives visitors. The situations may vary from case to case, with one resident having no children or family, while another has an extensive family network that happens to live far away. Regardless of the reasons, lack of social interactions with the one’s you love will leave anyone in the doldrums. If this continues long enough, mental health issues could arise, leading to more severe repercussions. It’s important for residents to have visitors that actively engage with them. But, how do you encourage family and friends to come visit when, more often than not, the last place they want to spend their Saturday is hanging around a retirement community?

In 2010, the CDC conducted a survey at residential care facilities, asking participants how many times  a resident received a visitor from outside the community. While visitation frequency varied among the group, 8 percent of those surveys received no outside visitors in 90 days. Extrapolating this, how many residents does your community have? That means, for every 100 residents, roughly eight of them have not had any outside contact in the last month. Now that’s a statistic to be concerned about.

As a community, it behooves senior living providers to make visitation not only easy, but also enjoyable for everyone. Taking a creative look at ways to engage residents, their families and friends will help encourage more frequent visitations and improved morale.

Some ideas include:

  • Mani/pedi day, where residents and their families can schedule a manicure with a professional at your community. Make sure to provide plenty of magazines and really go for the full salon experience!
  • Provide designated areas for dogs at your community. This way, families can bring their pets for a day with a resident.
  • Schedule a bus trip to a local restaurant and invite the family to have a meal with the resident outside of your community.
  • Plan a movie night, with a newer film that families may not have seen before. Bring in a popcorn machine and candy to really provide the full movie-viewing experience!
  • Families can bring unfolded laundry and visit while folding it. Yes, this sounds incredibly strange, but look at it from another angle. Many residents spent years being productive and contributing to their households. The ability to feel useful and needed again can be a big ego boost to someone who doesn’t see many visitors (but, make sure the resident is okay with this before coming with your duffel full of clothes!)
  • Organize a resident-family scavenger hunt. This provides time for meaningful interaction with the resident, as well an opportunity to explore the community.
  • Host a traveling zoo! Many local zoological societies have a traveling zoo that they can bring to your community. Residents and families alike will love this event!
  • Produce a trivia night, just like at the local pub! Many times, events are geared toward families with children. But what about having a pub trivia night? Offer adult beverages and hire a professional to host the game. This could encourage 20-somethings to visit and engage with their relatives when they might not otherwise!
  • Many communities have cooking classes or demonstrations already. Why not have one that is family-oriented, where children and grandchildren can assist the resident in making a delicious dish for all to share!
  • For those active residents, how about an on-site sports league with family and friends! Billiards, bowling, bocce and tennis make a great option. Pairing an active resident with a younger family member in a multi-week league will provide a great reason for ongoing interactions.

The key to all of these ideas is simple — by creating a little bit of enticement, you can encourage residents’ families to visit more frequently, having more meaningful interactions in the process. At the end of the day, this will not only make your community happier and more lively, but it will give you a unique niche in the marketplace that many other organizations aren’t yet exploring.