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How Can We Foster Engagement With Senior Clients?

Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, CFPS

August 1, 2023



How can we foster engagement with senior clients?


  • Set up daily activities that:
    • Stimulate the mind and body
    • Are culturally and socially relevant
    • Match interests
    • Are age-appropriate

When looking at activities, we want to make sure they foster engagement. Our clients in senior living are isolated. They are often in their room for long periods of time and may not have family coming to visit. When they come for OT services, are we stimulating their mind and body with culturally, socially relevant, and age-appropriate activities? Do they match their interests and what they want to do?

I will ask, "Hey, what do you want to work on today? What's your goal, and how do you want to accomplish that?"

  • Connect individuals to their environment
    • Make it more than just a place to sleep and eat
    • Include residents in decisions and events within the environment
    • Creating and modeling purpose

I like the idea of connecting our seniors to their environment. It is more than a place to go to get their meals, sleep, and shower. Are there ways that we can include our clients and not just during the occupational therapy process? For example, is there a way that this person can be part of a "welcome wagon," for new individuals?

I have done some creative things in both assisted and independent living communities. We had a car safety day, and one of the residents was a mechanic. We involved him in the planning, and it gave him a sense of purpose. Someone else may have worked in healthcare and could help with policies and procedures or marketing.

We can model purpose by having residents reach out to other residents.

  • Involvement in the local community
    • Tutoring, teaching, intergenerational mentoring
    • Promotes feelings of self-worth

There is a huge opportunity to work with the local community. For example, seniors can teach younger children how to cook, teach them how to read, or how to sew buttons on a shirt. There is also a great opportunity for our kids to teach our seniors things, like social networking online, how to set up a Zoom call, or how to access Facebook. We can match individuals with common interests and get them involved. It promotes a feeling of self-worth.

  • Help individuals to lead
    • Leadership opportunities in the facility
    • Resident committees
    • Fosters a sense of purpose

I also love the idea of helping individuals to lead and incorporating this into our OT plans of care. A committee may be a great place to start related to interior design, groundskeeping, or dining. These tasks require higher level cognitive skills and give them the opportunity to feel purposeful as they are serving a greater cause.

kathleen weissberg

Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, CFPS

Dr. Kathleen Weissberg, in her 31 years of practice, has worked in rehabilitation and long-term care as an executive, researcher, and educator. She has established numerous programs in nursing facilities; authored peer-reviewed publications on topics such as low vision, dementia quality care, and wellness; has spoken at numerous conferences both nationally and internationally. She provides continuing education support to over 40,000 individuals nationwide as National Director of Education for Select Rehabilitation. She is a Certified Dementia Care Practitioner, Certified Montessori Dementia Care Practitioner, and a Certified Fall Prevention Specialist. She serves as the Region 1 Director for the American Occupational Therapy Association Political Action Committee and is an adjunct professor at Gannon University in Erie, PA.


Related Courses

Bullying Among Older Adults: Not Just A Playground Problem
Presented by Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP


Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP
Course: #5660Level: Introductory1 Hour
  'Very informative topic since bullying happens in all ages'   Read Reviews
The definition and incidence of bullying in adult living communities and day centers including what older adult bullying looks like in this population are reviewed in this session. Characteristics of older adult bullies as well their targets and gender differences will be explored. The reasons why bullying occurs as well as the five different types of bullies are defined. Interventions for the organization, the bully, and the target will be reviewed to help communities minimize (and prevent where possible) bullying and mitigate the effects on the target. Addressing bullying behavior among older adults is critically important for enhancing quality of life and promoting emotional well-being; strategies to create caring and empathic communities for all residents and staff members are also reviewed.

Fostering Meaning And Purpose For Individuals In Senior Living
Presented by Kathleen Weissberg, MS, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, CFPS


Kathleen Weissberg, MS, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, CFPS
Course: #5937Level: Introductory1 Hour
  'Wonderful ideas on how to engage residents in the facilities '   Read Reviews
Despite such positive outcomes of meaningful engagement, recent studies have suggested that elderly residents are inactive most of their time, are engaged in passive activities, and do not experience significant verbal interaction with their caregivers. This session explores meaningful activities by focusing on the intersection of the individual, his/her occupations, and the environment. Participants are offered techniques for soliciting individual preferences, interests, roles, and hobbies and using these to encourage client choice and control over activities and occupations of interest.

Tools to Optimize Quality Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care: Tackling Loneliness and Social Isolation
Presented by Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L


Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L
Course: #4961Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'great strategies and and examples'   Read Reviews
This session will review practical and cost-effective strategies care providers can implement to impact these areas. Following the framework of person-centered care, providers will hear about meaningful and purposeful activity, sensory, technology, and wellness strategies they can implement to mitigate the potentially harmful effects of isolation.

What You Need To Know When An Individual Hoards
Presented by Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, CFPS, CGCS


Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, CFPS, CGCS
Course: #6385Level: Introductory1 Hour
  'Very informative and INTERESTING!'   Read Reviews
This session will explore hoarding in senior living by first defining hoarding and identifying the types of hoarding behaviors. The session will look at the scope of the issue in various levels of senior living (e.g., independent/assisted living, SNF, senior housing), reasons why individuals may hoard, health conditions that might lead to hoarding behavior, and the effects (physical, social, emotional) of hoarding behavior. Approaches and signs for recognizing hoarding behavior will be addressed. Finally, strategies to address hoarding in senior living will be offered, including how to balance interventions with resident rights, standardized assessment to determine the severity of hoarding, the dos and don’ts of communicating with a hoarder, and practices for supporting the hoarder toward a place of health and well-being.

Pelvic Muscle Dysfunction And Continence Improvement: A Primer For Occupational Therapy
Presented by Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, CFPS


Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, CFPS
Course: #5938Level: Introductory2 Hours
  'The depth of information that was presented, the anatomy review and the slides that were used in the explanations'   Read Reviews
This seminar provides an overview of anatomy and physiology of normal voiding and muscle function related to continence. Different types of incontinence are identified, and assessment/treatment strategies are offered for each. The role of OT in continence improvement is explored.

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