Activities Supporting Independence for Seniors
Table of Contents
For seniors, staying active, laughing, and simply having fun helps the body stay strong and mind stay sharp. Whether living independently, in an assisted living community, or skilled nursing center, there are plenty of activities for older adults to enjoy solo, with friends and family, or with caregivers.
The type of activity best suited for seniors is unique to each person and should be focused on what they can have success with. While everyone should strive to reach the limits of their potential, finding activities that provide satisfaction and enjoyment is key to making long-term lifestyle changes.
The major benefits of physically and mentally engaging activities for older people include:
- Enhanced mental and emotional well-being
- Extending life and improving physical vitality
- Better relationships with friends, family, and community
- Improved brain function and memory
- Greater mobility
- Alleviating stress and anxiety
Studies continue to prove the enormously positive impact that playing and fun activities have on older adults, and people of all ages. Below are several ideas to help stimulate the mind and body.
Indoor Activities for Seniors
If the weather isn’t pleasant or you just don’t feel like heading outside, these activities are fun and entertaining for seniors while socializing with friends and family or on their own.
Arts and Crafts
When seniors engage in arts and crafts, the possibilities are endless. The satisfaction we receive from creating art is immensely satisfying and unlocks plenty of benefits.
Create a photo album with your loved ones!
A walk down memory lane can be a fun activity as stories are passed down from generation to generation. Make sure every picture is labeled with the person’s name, relationship to the older adult, and location. For those with memory challenges, this can be a way to help them remember who the members of their family are.
For instance, painting and drawing are proven to boost confidence and hand-eye coordination for older adults. Other benefits such as increased brain activity, concentration, and overall mental health, make arts and crafts perfect for older adults.
Activities such as quilting, collage-making, sewing, and scrapbooking, make for fun indoor experiences and are great for adult children visiting their parents in senior living communities and skilled nursing centers. Conversely, projects like these are also good choices while seniors are solo.
Basically, when we are crafting and being artists, we are using our minds in a freeform way that stimulates specific areas of the brain. This has significant benefits for seniors.
For instance, older people who knit have to follow or create patterns which stimulates specific and different parts of the brain. And research shows activities such as crafting can reduce the chances of developing mild cognitive impairment by as much as 50 percent.
Here’s a short list of arts and craft ideas for seniors:
- Knitting and crocheting
Holiday seasons are also a perfect time for residents of assisted living and skilled nursing centers to have fun creating decorations because they can share what they’ve made with family and friends and get in a mindset of pure joy and celebration.
Playing Musical Instruments
Playing a musical instrument is one hobby that is both stimulating and fun at any age. Like anything challenging in life, learning to play an instrument is incredibly rewarding, and in no way impossible. There are classes offered at adult schools, online, and with private instructors for seniors who want to learn a new instrument. Setting a goal of learning a new song to play, then performing for visitors or their community is one way to stay motivated and work towards a highly rewarding achievement. And people who have played an instrument in the past can entertain others with their musical talent for a big boost in self-esteem and sense of accomplishment.
The benefits of playing an instrument include improved cognitive function, coordination, hearing and understanding speech, and the ability to process and retain information, all of which are crucial for the independent older person.
Music and dancing bring seniors together, promote smiling and laughter, and make us feel happy.
When we’re dancing to a beat, our bodies connect to the rhythm in healing ways. Even the most basic dance moves are a form of exercise. The social aspect of dancing also helps to address loneliness, depression, and isolation often seen amongst senior populations.
A study conducted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found regular dancing is associated with a lower risk of developing dementia. Other studies have shown dancing can help alleviate joint pain, and even decrease the need for pain medication in some cases.
Dancing is one activity best enjoyed with a partner or a group. When grandchildren, adult children, or friends gather, seniors can get moving with any of these dance types:
- Line dancing
- Folk dancing
- Dance-themed fitness classes
- Ballroom dancing
- Salsa dancing
- Swing dancing
Board Games, Cards, Puzzles
A fun game across generations.
“Zingo” by ThinkFun is a game that combines a lot of different skills and is perfect for all abilities. It is a Bingo-like game where you match by word or picture, which helps reinforce word recognition. Matching the chips to the cards also helps with fine motor skills.
Most games have suggested ages for players. Something to keep in mind when choosing one: advanced games will be more enjoyable for seniors and adult children, family, and friends, while games such as “Go Fish” are perfect for young grandchildren visiting a senior relative.
Adult children and families can get together to play board games with elderly parents for an enjoyable activity any day. Seniors can even throw a deck of cards into a bag and take a walk outside with a companion – to the park, for example – and play a card game outside.
When seniors solve puzzles and play board games, they use essential cognitive skills that are crucial for adults of all ages. Playing in this way helps maintain brain function responsible for problem-solving and memory.
Many games can also be enjoyed solo (Sudoku, puzzles, or crosswords), or online. Puzzles are also available in larger-sized pieces for those with vision or fine motor skill challenges.
Some fun games for seniors:
- Chinese checkers
- Go Fish
- Crazy Eights
- Crossword puzzles
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Word search puzzles
Knitting or Crocheting
Many seniors especially enjoy knitting and crocheting because it is relaxing, relieves stress, and can be done while alone or while mingling with friends. A huge benefit of knitting and crocheting is how it helps keep fingers and hands dexterous. Furthermore, Dr. Herbert Benson, a pioneer in mind/body medicine and author of The Relaxation Response says the repetitive action of needlework while knitting or crocheting can induce a relaxed state such as that associated with meditation and yoga.
There is a learning curve, but once past that, these activities can lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone Cortisol as well.
Cooking and Baking
Create a Recipe Book or Box.
Capturing family recipes is enjoyable for those trying to recreate fond memories of their childhood. Take some time to write those recipes down so that they can be shared with others. This can be done with your extended families or even friends within your community.
Not only is cooking and baking fun (and delicious!), they are also very meditative. The feeling of calmness and meditation comes from repetitive tasks while cooking and baking: beating eggs, measuring ingredients, stirring, smelling, tasting. All of these combined can have a strong positive effect on a senior’s mental health, especially with natural, healthy ingredients.
And, of course, there is always a yummy reward in the end. When shared with friends and family, what we cook and bake makes us happy because we’re helping to nourish others and, in turn, this nourishes our souls.
Lastly, cooking and baking take a level of creativity that can be very satisfying. Cooking meals is a perfect reason for loved ones to visit senior family members. Fun for the entire family, indeed.
Consistent reading will ultimately help older adults live independently longer and offer huge benefits, from reducing stress and enhancing sleep to improving memory circuits, sharpening decision-making, and delaying the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
In fact, a study of 294 seniors published in Neurology found engaging in frequent cognitive activity later in life reduced the rate of memory decline by 32 percent. This is because reading actually exercises our memory, which is very important for short- and long-term memory recall.
Arguably one of the most comforting and stress-reducing activities on our list is journaling. Many healing benefits come along with journaling, including knowing yourself better and finding resolutions to disagreements faster.
If we look back in history, many successful people have kept journals. It is actually an ancient tradition, one dating back to at least 10th century Japan.
How does journaling promote independence for seniors?
Take, for example, the findings of the University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker, who found regular journaling strengthens immune cells. Pennebaker believes writing about stressful events helps us come to terms with them and reduces the impact of those stressors on our physical health. And other research indicates journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
When older adults feel the stress of aging or depression from loneliness, journaling is an easy entry into self-healing.
Listening to Music
Music therapy can help people with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, depression, autism, or brain injuries.
According to The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, personalized music playlists can activate regions of the brain typically not touched by early Alzheimer’s disease and may offer a new way to approach anxiety, depression, and agitation in patients.
Furthermore, when patients with Alzheimer’s-related dementia listened to clips from a personalized playlist – music with a particular meaning to each individual – they found during MRI scans functional connectivity continued even after the music was played.
Active learning need not stop after graduating from school. Thankfully, there are plenty of both free and paid online courses available for seniors today.
Taking a course keeps the mind sharp and can be tons of fun. Many courses even have a nice social component where students collaborate on group projects and share their learning experiences. And there is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment which comes with successfully completing an online course.
Feelings of accomplishment make people happy, and happiness is a key driver for an independent life. Remember, you’re never too old to learn something new!
Outdoor Activities for Seniors
What activity is completely free and improves a person’s physical and mental health? Being outside in nature. Simply spending time outdoors provides people of all ages the chance to reconnect with nature, breathe in the fresh air, and feel at peace. It also helps reverse the negative feelings associated with loneliness many seniors face.
Being outside boosts vitamin D levels, immunity, and energy levels for seniors as well. Older adults who spend a lot of time outdoors actually recover from injuries faster by being exposed to natural light. And being outdoors even improves focus in seniors by giving their brain a break from everyday multitasking, screens, and mundane surroundings of the indoors.
Most of the following activities are meant to be enjoyed together with family and friends. The social interaction during all of these activities is important for the independent senior to stay engaged throughout the day and minimize the risks that come with being alone.
Connect with Nature through Birdwatching, Nature walks, and Gardening
Let’s start with birdwatching, very popular amongst senior populations. The calming experience of watching birds benefits both mind and body because it requires walking, standing, and focusing. Being in the open air is relaxing and can really calm the mind.
Going for a nature walk is a great activity for adult children to do with their senior parents. Find an easy trail to hike for a low-impact adventure or a walk along the ocean for some beautiful views. A change of scenery is always welcome for those with limited transportation options.
Then there is gardening, which is also very popular in senior communities and for those living independently. A garden is an excellent place for older people to work together to maintain. Working in a garden can be very relaxing and give a sense of pride. If food is being grown, harvesting and using fresh ingredients in their own cooking can improve their health as well.
Sports and Active Games
Seniors can get active and play games with low-impact, like pool or mini-golf, or even a video game that requires movement, such as WiiⓇ Tennis or WiiⓇ Bowling.
Being active in sports and physical games give seniors benefits like improved hand-eye coordination, a sense of control and accomplishment, and of course exercise which is good for both body and mind. Friendly competition offers a challenge and quality time spent with companions.
Here are some fun sports and games for seniors:
- Shuffle Board
- Lawn Bowling
- WiiⓇ Tennis or Bowling
- Pool or Billiards
Don’t let lack of mobility stand in your way to getting a workout. There are several simple exercises you can do right from your chair such as ankle or wrist rolls, single-leg calf raises, sit-and-stands, and others. Talk with your doctor about chair exercises that are right for you.
For older adults, simply walking for a short time can be considered exercise. This is enough for seniors to sustain mobility and cardiovascular health. As we age, decreased mobility can make it difficult to maintain an active lifestyle, which sometimes leads to loneliness.
Exercise is the best activity for seniors to keep their mobility, if only to be able to move about their own homes, or get in and out of a car to visit a doctor, family, and friends. While it is true the natural aging process can make seniors more prone to injuries and joint problems such as arthritis, avoiding physical activity altogether also comes with its own set of physical and mental health risks of obesity, heart disease, and depression.
Activities that incorporate balance and coordination, stretching, strength training, and cardio are especially important for older adults. But before beginning any exercise regimen, a physician should be consulted. Some exercises typically low-risk and low-impact for seniors are:
- Weight lifting (lightly)
Again, regular exercising for seniors will help sustain total body mobility and keep muscles strong while giving the mind stimulus at the same time. During exercise, our body releases chemicals that can improve our mood and make us feel more relaxed.
A healthy dose of the right exercises helps seniors live independent lifestyles as they age. And for maximum fun, grab a workout buddy! This is an easy way to incorporate socializing with physical activity.
How to Stay Motivated to be Active as a Senior
A simple way for seniors to stay motivated is to first, choose activities enjoyable to them. Maybe you love to play cards and board games; find a friend and make playing your favorite card game a weekly occurrence.
Or maybe you prefer to go on a walk outdoors alone while listening to music. Just work that activity into your weekly routine, but don’t be afraid to invite a friend or incorporate another activity into your walk, such as birdwatching.
Another way to stay motivated is to choose activities which are less challenging to fit into your daily schedule. Choose activities you can do safely, that are affordable, and ones that incorporate friends and loved ones.
Our residents and clients at every level — retirement and assisted living through rehabilitation and skilled care — have abundant opportunities for fun while stimulating mind and body, all tailored to each person’s capabilities. After all, activities promoting independence for those we serve are essential to the healthy lifestyle SALMON Health and Retirement offers.
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