Professional Comment

Meaningful Activities Can Be The Difference Between “Existing” and “Living” in Care Homes

By Jade McGowan, Activities Co-ordinator at Renaissance Care’s Jesmond Care Home (

As an activities coordinator, my main goal is to make sure residents are truly enjoying their time living in the home, rather than simply existing in it.

Residents deserve every opportunity to live full and active lives, just as they would if they were able to live independently.

In the last 15 years, I have seen a plethora of activities introduced to the market claiming to enhance the mental or physical well-being of residents. Some work well, but others fail to capture the attention of resident over a long-term basis.

I think a strong activities plan is all about asking: Is this activity actually meaningful to the residents?

By meaningful, I mean, is it specifically tailored to the needs and interests of residents? Is it something they would engage with naturally or something that sparks joy in their lives? Often, this is where the true value lies for residents. Helping them feel emotionally connected to the activities and emotionally fulfilled by their days.

This doesn’t always have to be grand plans of intricate parties or flashy entertainers – it can simply be taking 20 minutes to paint a resident’s nails, having a one-on-one conversation about a football match they are interested in or facilitating an in-home social group like a book club or arts and crafts session. Small, but fulfilling activities that are aligned with residents’ actual interests.

A perfect example comes from our minibus. Residents have final say over where we go and what we do. From visits to garden centres, coffee shops and tenpin bowling, the whole purpose of this activity is for residents to engage with the local community in a way that interests them.

Music plays a huge role in creating meaningful activities. We have dedicated Thursday afternoons to our musical entertainment night, inviting in local musicians, when possible, along with family and friends. We even have a drinks trolley available for residents who fancy a tipple with their entertainment. There is always a notable change in the mood and energy of the home after a music focused activity.

Music can be so emotive, unlocking old memories and helping people express their emotions and feelings, even when communication is difficult for them. There’s a compelling argument surrounding the benefits of music for people living with dementia. It has the potential to maintain speech and language skills and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

Creativity remains key when planning out activities. Just like in your personal life, repetition can quickly make things you love feel stale. We’ve been experimenting with musical activities in Jesmond recently by holding Moo Music classes with a local mother and baby group. Moo Music, an interactive music session traditionally focused around farm animals, has provided a refreshing way for residents to socialise. We’ve found that the music can be calming for both infants and the elderly. They love getting to meet the babies, bringing back happy memories of raising their own families, as well as getting to socialise with visiting mothers.

Festivals and fairs are also always big hits with residents. They provide the perfect opportunity to invite families and members of the local community into the home, creating a vibrant atmosphere for everyone to enjoy. We always joke that the residents will make any excuse to have a party – and so they should!

We still run a traditional schedule of events for residents, with bingo sessions taking place on Fridays and exercise sessions throughout the week to add routine to our residents’ days. However, at Renaissance Care, our focus is always on adding meaning and value with our activities plan.

At the end of the day, it’s all about listening to what residents want and empowering them to truly live their best lives, whatever form that takes for them.