This month, Suzanne Mumford looks at how to get a balance of engagement in group sessions
Q: "I have a gentleman who always dominates my afternoon sessions, and it really spoils them for everyone. Have you any ideas about what I could do?"
A: "Lots of activity coordinators describe this scenario - and I think it is important to reflect on what the activity is and how the person is dominating it.
- Are you gathering together a group with widely mixed abilities?
- Does he know he is disrupting the session or does he have a cognitive impairment?
- Have you talked to him about it?
- Is it a big and noisy group?
As in general society, even in a care home, there is still very little understanding or tolerance of people with dementia, so you may need to think about the groups you run and who participates. Not to exclude people - but to match groups and the complexity of activity to levels of ability, which may mean having two groups at different times with different participants to better meet their cognitive needs.
If the gentleman is disrupting because he is very knowledgeable, then may be he can take more of a leading role, perhaps talk to him and find out. You might also want to reflect on the life story of this gentleman - was he a teacher or public speaker and is now believing (his current reality) that he is back in that role? What could you and the team do to support him to feel he retains his sense of self and is valued for his contribution?
It might be helpful to ask yourself some of the below questions and see if that helps shape the sessions:
- Why might he be behaving in this way?
- What does he like doing?
- What is it that the rest of the group don't like?
- Is my approach influencing the rest of the group because I don't feel confident to manage him?
- Is there someone who can support/befriend him during the activity?
Noise can be a significant factor when providing activity. If the environment is too noisy or too 'busy' some people may walk out and not participate, or alternatively they may try to mirror the noises they are hearing, which can be distracting and disturbing for others.
The most important factor is to ensure that you and the team know what each individual likes and dislikes, and to try to plan activities that are tailored to the likes and preferences of large and smaller groups - as well of meeting the needs of individuals who don't want to join in, for whatever reason. In general, large groups of mixed cognitive function work best if they focus on musical activities, so this could be a good place to start for your afternoon sessions.
Of course, you shouldn't exclude him, but it might be far more beneficial for him to be given the opportunity to do another, alternative activity, tailored to his specific needs at the time when your group activity is taking place. That way, he is supported and able to enjoy something meaningful for him."
Suzanne Mumford is working with us on our Best Practice Training Course for activity coordinators. She has over 25 years’ experience working as a dementia and activities specialist for several leading UK care home groups, is a qualified trainer and works extensively supporting care homes with regulatory compliance for CQC inspections. You can book the Daily Sparkle Activity Coordinators’ Best Practice Training online.