It seems fitting that my final act of volunteering as part of my 60th birthday celebrations should be a repeat of one of the first bits of volunteering that I did – an hour’s entertainment for the residents of a retirement home. The first one was in January entitled Afternoon entertainment – residential care home.
This was a revisit to the same home as before so we had a good idea of what to expect. The method of deciding the programme and rehearsing was the same, so I thought I would talk a little about things that we consider when putting on entertainment in care homes.
The length of time needs to be considered and most residents tire easily, and their attention span can vary greatly.
A mixture of items is important as that can help with attention span as they don’t have to concentrate on the same thing for too long. For this particular afternoon, we had some piano duets, recorder duets, vocal solo, flute solo and some hymns (this is a church home) for all to join in with.
Hymns or songs that have words in a book are so useful as memory of songs we have known since childhood seem to remain in our long term memory, even after all other memory is a problem to access. Also the act of choosing a hymn and then finding the number in a book can be beneficial, even if that needs to be done with help. I always take this opportunity to engage with the residents on a one to one basis.
When I am performing a song in one of my recitals, audience feedback is really important to me, I look for clues that my audience is responding to the song and that really enriches my performance. However, when singing in care homes that kind of engagement may not be visible and so it is necessary to provide that extra energy yourself which can make this type of performance particularly tiring although it is always rewarding.
Another thing that is worth mentioning is that some residents do not actually want you there at all – they can’t watch the TV, or chat with their friends and they will voice those opinions loudly to all. The staff at the home are always very quick to deal with this type of outburst and offer an alternative activity, but oddly enough the residents do tend to opt to stay on and gradually become less disgruntled.
Generally though, they are very happy to see a different set of faces and always thank us for coming. The staff are always so grateful to us for giving our time and I always feel privileged that I have an interest that is able to be shared in this way.