As we age, we turn back into kids. The famous children’s author Robert Munsch shows the reality of this in his book, “Love You Forever,” when the main character, a grown man, eventually holds his aging mother as she once did him.
It’s a loving sentiment that spells out a greater truth about the aging brain: seniors need recreation and play as much as children do. Through recreational activities with families and friends, seniors can keep up the idea that they have much to look forward to in their golden years.
There are plenty of health, wellness, and medical solutions seniors can begin to incorporate during these later years of their lives. However, one of the most accessible, cost-friendly, and easiest improvements to make is just re-learning to have fun and play.
Through this most something as simple as recreation, families can help their aging elderly embrace the idea of recreational activities and joyful pursuits as the new standard in their lives.
What Should Seniors Be Looking For When Engaging in Fun Activities?
Recreation, play, and activity-based “fun” for seniors are so effective that a specific kind of therapy known as recreational therapy has emerged to support a senior’s overall well-being.
When used as a form of therapy, recreation can help to rehabilitate an ailing senior. In general, recreation can improve the lives of seniors significantly and greatly reduce any sense of isolation that may creep up on the most emotionally-resilient among us.
When aging adults engage in “fun” activities, they experience a myriad of benefits that include:
- Improving cognitive function (memory, recall, speech, pattern recognition)
- A stronger immune system
- Increased attention spans
- Reduced insomnia
Now, if you ask seniors what they’re personally looking for when undertaking an activity, you may hear any number of priorities. The variety in what they’re looking for is because aging adults all have different levels of mobility or cognitive strength.
So, based on their particular situation, they could be looking for a form of relaxation, socializing, or even deepening already-present skills and talents.
At the same time, there can be several reasons why seniors feel that recreation can’t be a part of their lives. These may be health-related issues that cause them to stop an activity, real social barriers, or even learned behaviors that justify why they’re not participating.
Of all the justifications for ceasing participation, the reasons seniors list that affect them the most are a lack, or a high cost of transportation, and having personal, physical limitations on mobility. You can think of these issues as a matter of accessibility.
If an aging adult can’t physically perform an activity, their access is limited. If they can’t actually visit the place where the activity is held, then this is also a valid limitation on accessibility.
When families are looking for positive activities to enhance their elderly loved one’s quality of life, keeping these reasons for cessation in mind is crucial.
Now that you know which factors attract seniors and motivate them to continue recreational activities, let’s explore a few activities that you can plan around these limitations – or even with them in mind!
10 Activities To Do When Visiting Seniors
If all you can think about when you’re trying to brainstorm recreational activities for seniors is Bingo night, it’s time to go beyond bingo.
Before you use these 10 innovative ideas to spark joy, play, and fun in your elderly loved one’s life, take note of a couple of tips that can make your visit more enjoyable:
- Try and plan these activities and visits in advance. Many recreational classes or workshops may need you to register, and your senior family member will appreciate having something to look forward to on their calendars.
- Schedule activities from the mid-morning (10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.) or the afternoon (2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.). These are the times where your elderly adult family member generally has the most energy or is most engaged. If you’re scheduling an evening activity, try to wrap things up by 7:00 p.m. so they have time to wind-down and avoid sleep disturbances or insomnia.
- When planning outings or projects together, use a mix of one-on-one and group activities. This way, your elderly family member can make friends beyond just your presence and won’t rely on you to keep the recreational moments alive.
Remember that the best activities will help seniors to stay engaged, feel loved and social, cognitively challenged, and emotionally supported. These 10 activities have the potential to fulfill all three of these needs.
1) Classes and Workshops
There are plenty of opportunities in your community for your senior family member to learn. For instance – a painting class, or a non-credit class at a community college.
Life-long learning for seniors is part of something social researcher Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset.
Seniors who participate in ongoing opportunities such as day-intensives or afternoon-long workshop sessions can more effectively manage their energy through shorter periods. Through short workshops, they can still reap the benefits of cognitive and social stimulation, which is the key to sharpening the aging brain.
2) Virtual Games and Apps
As it turns out, seniors are just as addicted to their smartphones and tablet devices as their grandkid – and they’re using it with higher levels of satisfaction than their youthful counterparts!
That’s a good thing because research shows that technology and mobile gaming can be a bridge between grandparents and their grandchildren.
The positive effects here pack a double-whammy. Seniors have a chance to stay sharp on their own through the use of puzzle-based games, and they can also connect compatible devices with their grandkids and build a connection of play and joy through interactive gaming.
3) Home Improvement Projects
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as improving, enhancing, and re-imagining the decor for one’s own home.
You may be the one to suggest a small but engaging project for your senior. Take care to tailor this project to their physical capabilities and plan out what you’ll be in charge of and what they’ll enjoy being responsible for.
Alternatively, you could both work on a home improvement project that geared to more than beautification. Modifying various elements to enhance the accessibility and mobility in your elderly family member’s home can be an enjoyable series of small projects – and it can help them successfully age in-home.
4) Reminisce With the Oldies But Goldies
Everyone has a Netflix list they’d like to get through, but when was the last time you viewed a series of classics?
Instead of starting yet another series, make a list of your elderly family members’ favorite movie classics and watch these together! They’ll appreciate your willingness to indulge in their era and meet them on their own turf.
5) Spa Visits
Even aging adults with mobility issues will love a planned and pampered spa visit. You can make a day of it, or treat yourself and your loved one to a weekend stay. Alternatively, you can go to a local spa and book a short-but-sweet, 90-minute treatment.
6) Go On A Walking Tour Of Your Hometown
It’s always nice to make the familiar unfamiliar once more. As long as your senior family member’s mobility and physical health allow it, you can use a walking tour guide book to embark on a new adventure. You could even book a guided tour of your hometown.
This is the chance to experience your city or town from new eyes. It will give you both an opportunity to appreciate what’s right under your nose and will help your elderly family members feel connected to their community.
7) Plan A Special Event
Depending on your senior’s interests, scope out special events that you can attend together. This could be local music festivals, craft fairs, or even dog shows. They may even be inspired to put together their own booth for the next time the event is in town.
8) Work On A Creative Family Tree Project Together
Family tree projects are a fantastic long-term project to embark on together. The ongoing and deeply personal nature of the undertaking means you can connect with your elderly family member’s priorities and memories. They may have their own box of stored clippings, photos, and contact information of long-lost relatives in storage somewhere.
Once you’re done, you can choose to showcase the generational connections in a visual display that is either physical or digital. This project will help both of you feel closer to your loved ones – and perhaps uncover some family histories you weren’t even aware of!
9) Find Some Fitness Classes
Many aging adults experience osteoarthritis pain, and they feel that this is a reason to stop or taper off fitness and exercise.
But the reality is that mobility and pain issues like arthritis can actually be improved through regular, low-impact physical activity such as walking, hiking, and yoga.
Gentle stretching poses or even heated yoga helps maintain the synovial fluid between joints, releases tension in the netting-like connective tissue known as fascia, soothes sore muscles, promotes mind-body wellness, and helps you sleep deeper.
The best part is that you can start right at home with a fitness video from free sites like YouTube. The fact that you’re taking it together is just a bonus.
10) Coach A Community League Together
Getting involved in your community could mean something as simple as signing up for community classes. Alternatively, you and your elderly family member could volunteer to be leaders in the community instead.
Being a leader in a community through an activity like coaching a league, team sport, or youth activity does so much more than just reduce a senior’s sense of isolation. It actually goes beyond that and helps an aging adult feel empowered, important, worthy, and as though they’re passing something on to a new generation.
Get creative when visiting seniors – that’s what these 10 ideas should highlight. Try and get beyond the same-old, expected activities of bingo or bridge night by encouraging your elderly loved one to push their boundaries and comfort zones.
You’ll see that none of these ideas for what to do when visiting seniors needs to be particularly strenuous or costly. It’s simply about making connections, consistently socializing, and finding meaning in the small but significant joys that recreation brings to our everyday lives.