• Allie Harris

In Praise of a Universal Programs Calendar

If you are in a senior living community and have never run a program for a high acuity population, please stop reading this, email it to your Life Enrichment Director, and go relieve them of whatever program they are in the middle of so that they can read hear me out. If you have, then please, PLEASE listen and heed my advice here.

It makes NO SENSE to use a standard month calendar for your programs in memory care or with cognitively impaired residents. None. Not even a little.

Here’s why- When you spend the time it takes to plan out a month in advance, when you make that calendar look perfect, and then you send it to family members, you are setting everyone up for failure and disappointment. Because you know how programs actually run in these areas of the community. They require more than one assistant, they may work one day and not the next, and they have to be entirely customized to the current vibrations of your group. Right?

When you make your beautiful monthly calendar and put it in the hands of your team and your family members, you already know this, but you have to give them something right? Of course you do. Because if I am a Life Enrichment Assistant, I need to know what program I am leading, and if I am an adult child, I want to know that my parent has lots going on. That’s what I’m paying for.

So for years and years we have thought we need to do these separate calendars for these populations, knowing very well that they are not coming to fruition and are more to appease a standard than to actually use as a tool.

I present to you (drum roll please), the Universal Programs Calendar. Write it down. Call a friend and tell them about it. Get it tattooed on your forearm, spring for t-shirts that read “Universal Programs Calendars Saved My Life”… because it will.

Here’s the theory: The best way to actually serve a population with high acuity or cognitive impairment is to be able to customize programming for the individual, which requires extreme flexibility. At the same time, we want to make sure we are balancing all dimensions of our programming model (social, emotional, physical, spiritual, cultural, intellectual, etc.).

Here’s how you put it together:

  1. Every day of the week has a layout based on the dimensions of your programming model. You still use times for these, but use generic names for them or even just the name of the dimension. With this, you should only need to have seven blocks on your calendar for each day of the week.

  2. Outline on the calendar types of programs that might fall within the dimension.

  3. Educate your team and other staff (nursing, dining, etc) on how this works so that they can assist with programming and not feel like they have to wait for a Life Enrichment Assistant to lead every program.

  4. When it comes time to run a program, assess the population and determine which of these programs will work this time. Note that this might mean running two programs at the same time for different segments of the population.

  5. For programs that are one-offs (entertainers, vendors, holiday programs, etc), include a separate box marked “Save the Date” or “Mark Your Calendar”.

Why is this the bomb? So many reasons, but here are the top five.

  1. It allows you and your team to be flexible and adapt programs to the day.

  2. It insures success for your Life Enrichment Assistants. They won’t leave the day feeling like programs “didn’t work” because they will use the programs that do.

  3. It is easy to follow for other staff and for residents.

  4. It can be easily modified from month to month. Can you say “time saver”?

  5. It highlights your wellness programming model, which sometimes can be an afterthought.

In survey after survey, residents say that the Life Enrichment Director is the most important person in the building. Your time is so valuable, and you shouldn’t be wasting it on creating “tools” that do nothing. Instead, adopt this Universal Programs Calendar. It’s my gift to you. You’re allowed to work smarter, and your residents and team members are going to kiss your feet for it.


For an example of a universal calendar, click here. And for more ideas to save you time and take your programs to the next level, sign up for my newsletter!

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