How do we keep "activities" REAL? What are some next generation activities that aren't the "same old, same old"? How do we excel at life enrichment? Is it possible to help people achieve happiness and wellness--even when the physical body doesn't want to cooperate anymore? Here are four things I suggest activity directors, life enrichment directors, or therapeutic recreation directors focus on. What are your thoughts?

1. Keep normalcy in everyday life.  Guard and prevent institutional, medical approaches from encroaching on normal life. I was in a community recently and I participated in a poetry group in the memory care area of the building. This poetry class happens only once a week--everyone looks forward to it. During the one hour of class, two out of eight people were taken out of class for a podiatrist to check their feet. This special time was interrupted unnecessarily by the medical team. Frankly, if the community's focus is on wellness, the poetry class is probably more important than foot care. Stand up and protect these special social, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual experiences from medical interruptions. They can wait.

2. Walk in people's shoes. One-on-one visits are a chance for two friends to talk with one learn from each other and to really listen to each other. It's important to ensure that family, staff, volunteers, and you are seeing the whole person (not a patient, a person). We can't judge a book by its cover. We can't let ageism creap into life in the community. We need to really open the book and read the whole, fascinating life story. Embrace the journey--walk in people's unique shoes, understand who they are and where they've come from. Celebrate life everyday.

3. Concentrate on what people CAN do. For example, I think that people who have lived a long life but now find themselves in long term care have MUCH to give. For example, many older people understand the power of prayer and they use it--they don't need to have legs or eyes that work to pray for those around them. I've been in communities where I can really feel that power around me and it makes a positive difference. Realize that some people may be spending time alone intentionally to pray, to meditate, to read and remember their favorite scriptures or songs. Also, while physical possessions might be fading in importance, older people are carrying with them wisdom and values that are essential to pass on to the next generation. Unfortunately, in too many communities, younger generations are not connected to receive the wisdom that's sitting there or standing there waiting for them (even grandchildren and great-grandchildren don't really have the chance to truly know their grandparents deeply). Activities directors and life enrichment directors have the distinct privilege to bridge the generations together as much as possible.

4. Help people realize their dreams. I concentrate on people's life stories because I think the past and present holds the keys to the future. Recently an 80-year-old man finished his LifeBio with the help of his daughter and he shared that he's always felt there was music inside of him but it has never been expressed. It's like he should have taken piano or guitar lessons and it just never happened. The time has come for those lessons to happen NOW. Authentic activity directors could also be called "wish granters" or "dream makers" or "happiness coaches" in my opinion. The genuine heart-to-heart conversations are going to reveal the dream that still needs to be fulfilled. Has Betty always wanted to start her own business and sell her quilts on the internet?  Has Joy wanted to raise $10,000 for her favorite charity, a homeless shelter in town? Has Glen longed to see the World War II Memorial in Washington? With the power of community connecting residents, staff, family, and volunteers, there is no telling what BIG dreams could happen together.

So tell me what you think the future is for community life, life enrichment, therapeutic recreation, or activity programming? If we're brainstorming, it just might happen!

Beth Sanders, Founder & CEO, 1-866-LIFEBIO,