When you arrive at My Friend’s Place, a group respite program in Bangor, Maine, the daily theme might be “Sixes and Sevens.” Or you may walk in and find that the day is all about “Crazy Eights.” In the summer, you could enjoy the day’s activities by “Camping In” or visit on a fall day and join “The Great Pumpkin” celebration. One never knows what kind of fun will ensue once you enter the doors of this adult day program.
What you can be sure of, however, is that each scheduled program day is well-planned, organized and coordinated around a chosen theme. Each four hour day is carefully planned by a team of volunteers, who use an established structure on which to build a day’s worth of meaningful activities. Participants can expect each day to include opportunities for socialization, cognitively stimulating activities, time for physical fitness, and nourishing food and drink.
Almost anything goes when it comes to categories from which themes are developed. Numbers such as “Gimme Five,” travel destinations, animals as in “Penguin Parade,” or favorites foods are all fodder for brainstorming sessions as themes are suggested. Although what the team plans is a wide variety of themes throughout the year, the factors that remain constant in each theme is the dignity and respect of program participants.
This person-centered principle is the foundation of every theme, every day. Authors of The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care Virginia Bell, MSW and David Troxel, MPH write, “My Friend’s Place, founded in 2001 is based on the Best Friends model of care. The Best Friends approach is a powerful model for improving the care of persons with dementia. This philosophy of care is based on the uniqueness, value and remaining untapped strengths and abilities of each person. The care is based on the ingredients of friendship, capable of changing a person’s anxiety, frustration or anger to a place where he or she feels safe, secure and valued. The outcome is improved quality of life for the person and caregiving that is more fulfilling for all caregivers, both family and professional.”
The Best Friends approach compliments the Brookdale Group Respite model, which outlines the benefits of trained volunteers, emphasizes dementia-specific activities and encourages safe, home-like environment. At this successful Brookdale program, volunteers warmly greet participants, conduct the activities for the day’s theme and ensure that participants are safe and comfortable in the program room. Volunteers also gather and prepare the bright, colorful decorations that grace the program room for the day.
These decorations are carefully chosen to announced the day’s four-hour theme, stimulate discussions and reminiscence and add a festival flair to the adult day program environment. Food and snacks correspond with the day’s theme. On “Daisy Days,” everyone decorated Daisy Cupcakes by using a sweet daisy stencil to shape the tasty frosting in to flowers. Games are tailored to the concept of the day. For example, on the theme day “In a Pickle,” one of the games is “How many words can be made from the letters in ‘Pickle Jar?'”
Designed to provide a stimulating, fun and enriching program for elders with dementia, all of these adult appropriate activities are also well suited for other group environments. Programs such as senior centers or clubs can easily adapt theme elements to accommodate a group of any size. A full day of themes can be replicated or just one component of a theme can be conducted.
This theme-based program is, in many ways, a community-wide endeavor. Community members, merchants and local companies often donate supplies. Families also enjoy bringing in items from home. Participants delight in telling the group about the history of a favorite tool or family heirloom. Professionals from a variety of fields may be asked to give a presentation on their jobs and provide useful information on health safety. One participant was a retired fireman, so he was especially pleased when a firefighter came to talk “shop”. Everyone at My Friend’s Place participated in the sharing of memories and stories about everyday heroes of today and yesterday.