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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Activities for Psych and Geri Units

Q. What activities would you consider appropriate for an adult psychiatric unit? a geriatric psychiatric unit? I am a Certified Activity Director who must work both units and I am trying to incorporate ideas from my long term experience into this setting. My boss and I are having difficulty communicating as she says "you're the activity person, figure it out." I do not find this attitude terribly useful and would like to offer my patients the best program I an on a very limited budget. I spend 6 hours between the two units a day. Also, any books you might suggest would be appreciated.

A. Depending on your training and comfort level, you might consider a number of stimulating social/recreational activities for these inpatients. For psychogeriatric patients, for example, group approaches may involve music, dance, movement, art, and drama. Some activity groups aim for primarily physical rehabilitative goals, while others (such as art therapy) border on the expressive/psychotherapeutic. These groups also provide critical opportunities for elders to receive social interaction, which is often missing on some inpatient units.

In one study of adult psychiatric inpatients, music therapy proved to be more highly rated than art and recreation therapy (Heaney CJ, Journal of Music Therapy, Summer 1992, pp. 70-86). Stress management groups are another option, and these would be appropriate for both geriatric and non-geriatric psychiatric inpatients--assuming, of course, that the patient's primary physician concurs (see Courtney & Escobedo, American Journal of Occupational Therapy, April 1990, ppp. 306-10).

Another approach used in group work with the elderly is called "Reminiscence therapy" (see Meador & Davis, in American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Geriatric Psychiatry, eds. Busse & Blazer). This involves the use of guided autobiographical material, aimed at affirming the life experiences of the group members. It may be used with both cognitively intact and moderately demented patients. I hope these suggestions spark some good work!

January, 2001

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