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Dedicated to helping Activity Professionals with the daily operation of their department.
by Debbie Hommel, BA, CRA, ACC, Executive Director of DH Special Services.
The Activity Director's Office
Music: "Alexander's Rag Time Band" furnished by Heart and Soul Music "Providing Quality Music for Nursing Homes"
Themes for Life

One of the first programming techniques that activity professionals learn about is how to plan theme
activities.  We learn to integrate seasonal, holiday and life themes into our monthly programs and daily
routines.   We read about theme based activity ideas in publications like Creative Forecasting and web
sites like Activity Connection.  But do we really understand why theme programming is effective or
therapeutic?  Or is it the   “thing to do” because it makes our calendars look interesting?  

As we enter the summer season, many activity professionals begin planning patriotic activities
focusing on Independence Day: decorating in red, white and blue, playing patriotic music during
exercise programs, making blueberry recipes in cooking class, creating red/white and blue sensory
boxes and making firecracker centerpieces in crafts groups.  We lead reminiscent groups where we
generate discussion about Independence days from the past, favorite picnic foods, and other activities
related to traditional holiday celebrations.   What begins to happen is almost magic.  Although everyone
has led different lives, at different times, with different people – we are connecting through constants.   
Constants are events or actions that happen consistently in response to a regular occurrence (date,
holiday or season).    In our country, fire works are traditional and symbolic of Independence Day.  Most
everyone has been to a fireworks display at some point in their life.  In discussing fireworks, almost
everyone can relate and respond.  We all have our favorite fireworks or personal fireworks story, which
celebrates us as individuals.  As the topic of fireworks is discussed amongst the group, it connects the
individuals in the group as it is something they can all relate to.  Your age or mental status does not
matter, constants are familiar, make us feel safe and connect us with others.  

As activity professionals, we are well aware of how quickly the months go by. It seems we have just put
away the spring time decorations and now we are planning summer picnics and Luaus.  We
sometimes lose sight of the connected nature of these themed programs.  Indirectly, one theme
carries us into the next and that one prepares us for the following one.  We are re-creating life or the
circle of life through our themed programs.  The circle of life or the Mandela celebrates the fact that the
sun will always rise and the seasons will always change.  That is another constant we can count on.  
Keeping our residents connected to the circle of life is critical to their quality of life and well being.  
Upon admission, they are sometimes sad and defeated.  They have lost their place on the circle of life.  
The routines and traditions they followed in their own home are often lost.  Through theme programs
and the opportunity to become re-involved in traditional, familiar activities that accompany theme
programs, the resident can re-enter the circle of life.  

Theme programs are rich in traditions, rituals and customs.  Every theme program can integrate a
practice from the past.   Many of the activities we plan are meant to be catalysts for provoking long lost
memories, awakening lost skills or generating reminiscence.  We have all seen residents with
memory loss be able to share all the ingredients to their famous potato salad recipe and guide the rest
of the group in making a tasty batch.  We have all seen physically frail residents sit up a little straighter
and move their right hand over their heart when hearing the National Anthem played at a social.  

So as you are planning your summer (and fall, winter and spring) activities, keep in mind the
therapeutic value these programs potentially can provide.  Providing our residents with opportunities to
remain engaged in the circle of life through theme based activities is priceless.  The joy of biting into a
fresh watermelon, surrounded by your loved ones at a family picnic, with a string band playing in the
background is immeasurable.   The delight in making a familiar recipe using fresh ingredients of the
season, just as they did in their home is beyond description.  The simple happiness of remaining an
active part of life as it comes around again and again is something we all deserve.  

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being.
Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light."
-Albert Schweitzer
Let Debbie answer your
Activity Questions
About Debbie

Debbie Hommel, BA, CRA, ACC, is
the Executive Director of DH Special
Services. She is a Certified Activity
Consultant on State and National
level, with over twenty-seven years of
experience in providing direct care
and consultation to long term care,
medical day care, assisted living,
and ICF/MR facilities throughout New
Jersey, New York, Maryland, and
Pennsylvania. She is an experienced
trainer and workshop presenter,
conducting a variety of seminars
throughout the Tri-State area for the
Activity Professional, Administrator,
and allied healthcare professional.
Debbie Hommel is an active member
of Activity Professional Associations
on State and National levels. She is
ACC certified through the NCCAP.
She is a founding member of the
New Jersey Activity Professionals'
Association, serving terms as Vice
President and President. She
received the Weidner Lifetime
Achievement Award in 1994 and the
Monmouth & Ocean County Activity
Professionals Life Achievement
Award in 1999.
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in Long Term Care Settings

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