Dear reader, what are meaningful activities?

By Judith Leeson

Director Vector Consultants, Career Development Counsellor and Coach/Hope Filled Engagement

I wonder if, like me, you are sitting in your favourite chair reflecting on the years that have passed, and those to come, and wondering how your future will look. At present I am coping with somewhat limited physical abilities, living independently with my husband on our small rural property and trying to imagine what the transition from Home Care Support to residential care may look like, if or when needed.

My day is lived exactly how I want to live, after six decades of paid employment- sleep in until 9 am, breakfast in my dressing gown, shower, put on farm- sensible clothes, and go out into the garden. There I am able to closely inspect our veggie garden, and herbaceous border, pull up some stray weeds and make a secret list of tasks for my husband.

My next enjoyable task is to check and respond to my emails, read the world news on the internet, and look for learning opportunities where I am able to enrol in stimulating webinars that match my interests and my values. I then reply to messages from family, friends and colleagues, and compose provoking responses to people on LinkedIn and Facebook. Lunch on leftovers with my husband, and then a whole afternoon to do exactly what pleases me, and also is of use to the community. Some days it is reading, others coffee and shared cake with friends, movies, visits with the Garden Club, attending Board meetings, dozing in my chair, feeding the chooks, picking the roses, and planning the evening meal.

All of these activities have meaning, contribute to my purpose-driven life, and are just a small portion of what I do throughout my day – but no day is the same, as I respond to the outside world, and try to sustain the important relationships I enjoy.

So, what are meaningful activities? For me, they are those which allow me to express my interests, and my values, and to build on my experience through learning new and useful skills. Some of them enable me to continue my life of supported independence, those which enable me to explore the world, sometimes by proxy, and continue to initiate and maintain meaningful relationships. My voluntary work is very important to me, and I am trying to make a difference where I can, so I read widely and write down my thoughts.

Does your day resemble mine? What has meaning for you and makes your day sing? Would you like to share some of my daily activities in residential care, or would the prospect fill you with horror? Let’s hope that there will be an affectionate dog, a lazy demanding cat, and some chooks in the garden so that we can engage with them, feed and love them. Perhaps there will be a small library, even a book club, classes in painting or craft, some classical music performances, opportunities to be involved in the University of the Third Age, immersive travel experiences using virtual reality, a woodworking shed, cooking for fun (with lots of chillies), a garden to tend, and veggies to include in our menu, even an elegant bar for sundowners, and a special space for reading? What support, if any, would you need to choose your daily activities so that you continue to have a meaningful life in residential care?

How would you like to transition into residential care from where you live, or from hospital if you have been ill or had an accident?  On my first day in residential care, when everything is strange and new, I would like to sit with someone who is genuinely interested in the life I have left behind, the previous day in fact. I would want to continue the life I had and be able to select daily activities that have purpose and meaning for me. I would want my choices from yesterday acknowledged today as being of importance and meaningful to me. I would want real challenges, but genuine support to engage with my family, friends and the world as I had done yesterday.

If I have early dementia, I may need assistance to undertake meaningful activities during my day but substituting any with little or no meaning for me would further reduce my capacity to make decisions and continue to learn. Meaningful activities are motivated by our interests, values, preferences and past experience, and often involve learning. They cannot be superimposed or reduced to meaningless tasks. Without our story to inform our daily lives, activities can be mindless, filling in time without purpose, blankly watching a television program aimed at adolescents. 

So, dear reader, how would you want to spend your days in residential care? We are all unique individuals, with unique life histories, so what activities would be meaningful to you?  If my short list of activities that would be meaningful to me is not of interest to you, what would you choose?

Please let me know, dear reader so that we can transform our future in aged care, our lives continue to have purpose and meaning, and our days continue with hope-filled engagement.

*The views and opinions expressed in Knowledge Blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of ARIIA, Flinders University and/or the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care.