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Fun Ideas: "Activities for the Elderly" Facts and Misconceptions
Ideas Main

Activities for the Elderly


Activities for the Elderly
Facts and Misconceptions

by Wes Fessler


Activities for the Elderly - Facts and Misconceptions


It is fun to make elderly relatives a part of family activities. Unfortunately the elderly sometimes miss out on family activities, or are excluded from fun events because of false beliefs and misconceptions about their age and abilities. The elderly are an important part of families and should be able to participate in family activities whenever it is possible.

While the elderly can be affected to some degree by physical and sensory impairments, it is unwise to assume that they are unable to participate in family activities. Families should use care not to label elderly relatives as “old.” Every elderly family member deserves individual attention and an understanding of their specific abilities and needs. It is better to choose activities that suit the needs of the elderly than to exclude them from family fun.


ACTIVITIES FOR HEALTHY ELDERLY RELATIVES
Elderly family members are frequently able to do most of the things that everyone else does. It is unwise to assume that elderly individuals are unable to participate in fun activities because of their age alone. Don’t forget to invite your healthy elderly relatives to your fun family activities. See our list of  “100 Fun Family Activities” for fun ideas to do with your family (including healthy elderly family members).


STIGMA AND MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE ELDERLY
Some elderly family members may have varying degrees of impairment to physical and/or sensory health Although society sometimes stigmatizes the elderly with labels such as “old,” “senile,” or “over the hill,” it is important to realize that every elderly person has unique abilities and needs. It is unfair to place elderly individuals into a single category that demeans their abilities or undermines the importance of their relationships to their families. There is no single label that can describe the unique physical abilities and needs of every elderly individual.


FACTS ABOUT THE ELDERLY
As the human body ages it will inevitably lose some level of the functionality and strength that it once had. A variety of physical impairments will eventually affect all of us. It is important to remember, however, that the challenges of physical aging affect each person in different ways and in varying levels of intensity. Many impairments of aging can hardly be noticed, while others can be debilitating.

In order to select appropriate activities for elderly it is important to be aware of the unique physical and sensory challenges they may have. Learning the specific physical and sensory needs of elderly individuals can help you to better determine which activities are most suited for them.


TALKING ABOUT PHYSICAL NEEDS
It may be necessary to ask elderly relatives a few questions to discover what physical challenges they have. These needs will change in time, but they will help you to know what to activities to avoid and which ones to try. When asking about elderly physical impairments, keep in mind that this can be a sensitive issue. Avoid dwelling on their limitations or discussing them to an extent that makes them feel uncomfortable. Ask them what activities they enjoy and would like to do with you, rather than trying to decide for them. Allow elderly family members to tell you about activities they enjoy and they will likely suggest ideas that you can do together.

Understanding physical challenges of the elderly can help you to make informed suggestions for other activities that you can enjoy together. It is helpful to know specific limitations that your elderly relatives may inform you about, but also to know about conditions that occur commonly among aging individuals. Although the elderly may tell you about some of their conditions, they may not always reveal other conditions of aging that cause them discomfort. Knowing about impairments that are common with aging can help you to select appropriate activities for the elderly which avoid displeasure and discomfort.


FACTS ABOUT AGING
The following is a list of impairments that frequently occur with aging. Although every aging individual will experience some of these conditions, few will experience all of them, and each problem varies in its degree of seriousness. This list should be used to better understand potential conditions of aging, and not to stigmatize or make assumptions about the elderly.

COMMON PHYSICAL IMPAIRMENTS OF AGING
Impairment
Affects on Health
and Functionality
Potentially
Impacted Activities
Balance Elderly can be more prone to falls Activities of Motion, Climbing, Physical Activities, etc.
Bone Density and Muscle Strength Strength and Resilience of bones and muscles decline. Physical Activities, Activities that Require Strength
Blood Circulation More rapidly fatigued, Less oxygen available to muscles, Less ability to tolerate cold or hot temperatures  Activities in unusually warm or cold climate, increased risk of heart attack or stroke from exerting physical activities
Brain Function Decline/Memory Loss or Disease Some elderly individuals face loss of memory or some degree of ability to process cognitive thought Communication, Language Games, etc.
Decreased Nerve Sensitivity Greater propensity for injury Physical activities
Elasticity of Skin More susceptible to soft tissue injuries  Physical activities
Exertion In addition to decreased blood circulation, a decrease in the oxygen exchange of the lungs contributes to more rapid fatigue  Physical activities
Hearing Decline in physical and neural components of hearing Activities that require a high degree of conversation, activities in which hearing is necessary for safety
Mobility In addition to a decline of bone density and muscle strength, elderly individuals commonly have decreased flexibility from the pain of arthritis and other conditions that affect their mobility   Activities that require  physical travel or challenging terrain
Teeth Deterioration of teeth and/or replacement with dentures Eating foods that are difficult to chew may be uncomfortable and challenging to the elderly.
Sight Deterioration of physical and/or neural components of the eyes Decline of visual acuity can affect many activities such as reading, driving, game-play, etc

The age-related impairments described in the table above indicate that it is sometimes necessary to choose activities that suit the individual needs of the elderly. This may require simple modifications to normal activities or the complete avoidance of certain activities.


ACTIVITIES FOR ELDERLY WITH MINOR PHYSICAL IMPAIRMENTS
Many elderly individuals with limited physical impairments can participate in regular activities with only a reduction in the level of physical intensity. For instance, instead of a run or hike, a walk may be a better choice for certain individuals. For those with more serious impairments, however, it may be necessary to choose a completely different activity that is not in conflict with their physical challenges.

Elderly people need suitable physical exercise and activity just as everyone does. It is important to include the elderly in physical activities whenever it is safe to do so. Always consult a physician if there is any doubt about the physical ability of any elderly person to engage in an activity.


ACTIVITIES FOR SIGNIFICANTLY PHYSICALLY IMPAIRED ELDERLY
For elderly individuals with significant physical impairments it is wise to choose activities that require a minimum of physical exertion. Significantly physically impaired elderly individuals frequently have mobility problems. Some are confined to wheel chairs or other equipment. It is best to avoid activities that require them to get up and move around beyond their normal level of comfort. Always consult a physician when there is doubt about safe activities for the significantly physically impaired.

Activities like card games, movies, indoor picnics, sharing stories, etc. are better to choose for elderly people with significant physical impairments. Try to choose activities that emphasize their abilities, not their disabilites.


ACTIVITIES FOR THE ELDERLY WITH MENTAL CHALLENGES
In some cases, elderly people are affected by degradation of brain function and/or memory loss. It is important not to stigmatize elderly individuals who are afflicted with mental dysfunction or disease. Always remember that these elderly people are victims of uncontrollable conditions and should not be abused or ridiculed for what they cannot change.

For elderly individuals who are affected by the challenges of declining brain function, simple activities are usually appropriate and appreciated. Sharing conversations, going for walks, or even singing songs can be helpful. Choose activities that allow them to use their cognitive abilities, but that are not so complicated as to confuse or frustrate them.

ACITIVITY BRAINSTORM
Here are several general ideas for activities that you can do with elderly relatives. This list is a starting point to help you think of creative and fun ideas to share with your elderly loved ones. Consider the specific physical and mental needs of your elderly family members to determine what activities are best. As always consult a physician if there is any question about physical or mental fitness for any activity.

ELDERLY ACTIVITY BRAINSTORM IDEAS
Use this list as a starting point for elderly activity ideas
Art Projects
Bean Bag Toss Game
Begin a Collection
Bingo
Board Games
Bowling
Card Games
Checkers
Chess
Croquet
Dancing
Dominos
Fishing
Gardening
Go for a Scenic Drive
Go out to Dinner
Go to a Shady Park
Horseshoes
Beach Ball Hot Potato
Ice Cream
Karaoke
Life Event Stories
Light Exercise
Look at Picture Albums
Magnetic Darts
Memory Games
Movie Classics
Music
Puzzles
Scrapbooking
Short Stories
Shuffleboard
Simple Crafts
Walks
Word Games
Work on Genealogy


SUMMING IT UP
Elderly family members are an important part of every family circle, and they should be included in family activities as frequently as possible. Unfortunately the elderly are frequently excluded from fun events with their families because of societal stigma and assumptions about their physical and mental health. It is important to realize that the health and mental soundness of the elderly varies widely from person to person and should always be evaluated on an individual basis. One should never exclude an elderly family member from activities based on their age alone.

Many elderly family members have exceptional health and are able to participate in nearly any activity to which they are invited. Some elderly family members suffer varying degrees of physical, sensory, and mental impairments and should be invited to participate in activities that suit their individual needs. Other elderly family members have significant physical and/or mental impairments and may need to be invited to participate in simple activities accommodate their needs but allow them to feel involved. When any doubt exists about an elderly person’s ability to participate in an activity, it is wise to consult a doctor for an expert opinion. The important commonality for all elderly family members is that they should be able to participate in activities that allow them to know they are loved and valued by their families.


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