Is there a difference between recreational therapy and activity programs?

Recently, we wrote about recreational therapy. However, if you have visited a long-term care center or similar facility, you may have heard of their activity program. You might be wondering: Are activity programs the same as recreational therapy? There are some differences and some similarities.

There are two key differences between recreational therapy and activities. First is how the service is paid for: A facility employing recreational therapists can charge Medicare/Medicaid and other insurers for the services of the therapist, while a facility employing an activity professional cannot charge Medicare/Medicaid or other insurers for the activity professional’s services. Secondly, activity services/programs are primarily provisioned for geriatric populations in a variety of settings that may include other populations with special needs, whereas recreational therapies serve people of various ages and abilities across a wider spectrum of settings.

Recreational therapy and activity programs do have some things in common. The National Association of Activity Professionals (NAAP) represents activity professionals who work in primarily geriatric settings and provides them opportunities for professional development and personal growth. They describe the activity practice as similar to recreation therapy: “is based on assessment, development, implementation, documentation, and evaluation of the programs provided and the unique needs and interests of each individual served.” Activity services, like recreational therapy services, are directed and provided by professionals who are trained and certified to provide such services. Both activity professionals and recreational therapists use recreational and leisure activities to help the people they serve reach their full potential.

If you are an activity professional, or someone interested in what activity professionals do, check out the following resources:

  • Activity Director Today is an online magazine that provides activity ideas, advice, and links to NAAP and the National Certification Council for Activity Professionals (NCCAP), along with links to websites of interest, job ads, care plan case studies, and communities.
  • com provides activity ideas specific to activity professionals working with the Alzheimer’s and dementia community. Some of the activities include sensory bags, puppet therapy, matching games, and reminiscence activities.
  • Not Just Bingo provides articles and resources for the busy activity professional. The articles section includes articles on general activities, games and exercise, club ideas, outings, activities for people with dementia, activity planning, volunteers, family activities, and residents’ health. They also provide quick tips, resources, examples of activity calendars, and different activity guides.

The following NIDILRR-funded projects are great resources for activity professionals and recreational therapists:

  • Increasing Community Participation in Adults with Schizophrenia (90IF0086) uses Independence through Community Access and Navigation (ICAN), a new community-based intervention, to decrease sedentary behavior and increase community participation in adults with schizophrenia spectrum disorders. ICAN is a recreational therapy intervention that is theoretically grounded in Self-Determination Theory to promote independent, community-based recreation participation through the use of an individualized placement and support model.
  • Interactive Exercise Technologies and Exercise Physiology for People with Disabilities (90RE5009) utilizes an advanced engineering research and development program that uses new technologies to address the high rates of inactivity in teens and adults with disabilities. The key target areas for the research and development projects of this Center are to improve access to recreation and exercise venues and equipment, increase opportunities for participation in beneficial exercise, utilize technology to support a better adherence to regular exercise, and the promotion of regular exercise and active lifestyles for people with disabilities.
  • The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Living (RTCIL) (90RT5015) has the objective of increasing the continuity of community living and full community participation of people with disabilities. Five of the thirteen projects within the RTCIL evaluate the efficiency of programs, policies, and practices so as to improve services and supports that provide community participation opportunities. They address consumer participation needs in housing, recreation, community participation, and civic involvement.

If you are an activity professional or recreation therapist, do not forget to check out SCI-Hard, a video game developed by the NIDILRR-funded Technology Increasing Knowledge: Technology Optimizing Choice (TIKTOC) Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) for people with spinal cord injury (SCI). The game introduces the player to new challenges and obstacles all while trying to save the world from mutated animals! If you work with 13-29 year olds with SCI, check out TICTOK’s study that evaluates the effectiveness of gaming to augment the self-management of teens and young adults with SCI.

About mpgarcia

I'm the Bilingual Information/Media Specialist at NARIC.
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