Best practice in activities

According to a report from the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at NUI Galway, significant financial savings can be made by the State in health and care costs, if older people are encouraged to engage in creative arts and in physical activity. The research findings confirm what has been known for countless generations – a healthy and outgoing lifestyle, with appropriate exercise, contributes to a happy and productive old age from a physical, psychological and social perspective. As life expectancy increases, the need to remain alert, healthy and focused through involvement in the creative arts and in physical activity becomes more important. Growing old should not mean losing a sense of adventure.

So, find out what your relative is interested in – ask them what activities they would like to partake in, and let the staff at the residential care centre know so that they can respond. My mother loved knitting, singing, reading the paper and going for walks. Below are some activities that provide social interaction, and which might interest your relative.

One point to note – you do not have to wait for the centre to initiate an activity – why not make a suggestion or better still, volunteer your services? Perhaps you are a great musician or storyteller? Can you spare an hour or two regularly to play cards or to just sit and talk? The bottom line is that this should be a partnership approach, where we work together with the provider to ensure a high quality of physical care and intellectual stimulation for our loved ones. As relatives and friends, we have a critical part to play. Remember, variety is the spice of life – it is important that activities are varied as otherwise people get bored. Would you like to repeat the same activities, day after day, week after week? The older person is no different.

Special Events

All birthdays and special events should be marked during the year, For my mother 99th birthday we organised for an ice cream van to come to the Nursing Home for two hours in the afternoon. Her favourite ice cream was 99’s. it worked out very well as all the residence and staff joined in and enjoyed the ice cream as well. Many got into the van and arranged their own favourites. Many residential care units celebrate Christmas with decorations, concerts and Christmas services. At Easter with Easter ceremonies, decorations, Easter Bonnet parade and concerts. St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween with decorations, music, and a small party. Having a local school participate to put on a display of music and dance adds an extra community touch. Perhaps consider putting up some decorations in your relative’s room to make it even more special? Visit on the day and be part of the celebration.

Regular Opportunities for Social Interaction

  • Time is the most magical ingredient. A cup of tea and an unhurried chat can mean so much.
    • Music afternoons or evenings by staff of the residential unit, relatives, friends and other locals.
    • Story telling – perhaps, reading aloud from old style books like To School Through the Fields by Alice Taylor.
    • A visit by the local museum to bring in objects from the past – the residents can have great fun trying to guess what the objects were used for.
    • Casino, poker or soccer nights are always popular options, especially with the Champions League and the Premiership. Rugby afternoons can also be fun
    • Show an old movie using a large screen and projector. Why not simulate the atmosphere of the cinema with a treat at the interval? Show old TV shows on video – for example The Live Mike; Fawlty Towers or Dad’s Army. Other options are old western movies as well as boxing or sporting videos. You can also hold a Karaoke evening (include, for example, music from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, John McCormack).

Hobbies and Crafts

Finding something that interests the older person provides them with enjoyment and a sense of positive self-esteem. Many of these activities also help the older person to maintain important cognitive skills as well as eye and hand coordination and fine motor skills. Depending on interests and ability, the following are examples of possible crafts or hobbies that the older person might enjoy.

  • Regular outings to places of interest
  • Baking buns and cakes.
  • Drawing and painting.
  • Gardening.
  • Flower arranging.
  • Help in maintaining a vegetable garden or the bird feeders.
  • Knitting.
  • Making a rug.
  • Kitting – making a model airplane.
  • Playing music from their era.
  • Keeping scrapbooks.
  • Making their own story books can be achieved through one-to-one conversations and using family photographs.
  • Photography – some may like to take snaps, however, just looking at old photographs can evoke many memories. A digital screen in the resident’s room showing a rotating selection of family photographs can be stimulating.
  • Games like dominoes, draughts, chess, card games like 25, poker or bridge as well as board games like Scrabble are good choices.
  • Bingo and musical bingo are usually popular.
  • Playing pool and darts (rubber tipped). Many enjoy horse racing – selecting their favourite horses and being able to place a bet from the comfort of the residential care centre.
  • Puzzles – jigsaw, crossword puzzles either individually or collectively through use of a large board, word search or picture search in the newspaper, for example who can find the picture of the vegetables in the newspaper.
  • Exercise classes, including yoga for the older person.
  • Massage – touch is very important particularly for those with dementia.
  • Computer classes for beginners – a great way to enable residents with families abroad to stay in touch via email or Skype. Perhaps a local company might volunteer to help?

Keeping the Mind Alert

Older people can have fun and exercise their brain power at the same time by playing a variety of mind-stimulating games that enhance memory and help prevent boredom and stagnation. The DANA Alliance for Brain Initiatives says that engaging in active lifelong learning is essential to your brain health as you age. According to the US National Institutes of Health, practising mental exercises can improve brain health and help maintain thinking skills. Even eating or brushing your teeth with your opposite hand is a good exercise to keep your mind healthy. A walk is a great option – moderate exercise has proven health benefits for the mind as well as the body.

Reading and Memory Games

According to the Mayo Clinic, reading can help decrease the chances of cognitive impairment by 30% to 50%. Whether it is a novel or the daily newspaper, reading exercises the brain by making it perform several processes at once – interpreting letters and words and processing overall concepts and ideas. Likewise, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says that memory games are among the brain exercises most likely to maintain healthy cognitive function in the older person. The classic game of Memory is a good example. In this game, cards with pictures of ordinary objects are laid face-down on a table with two cards of each picture in each stack. Participants then take turns turning over the cards to try and match up the pictures.

Trivia Games

Trivia games such as Family Feud, Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit may aid those with dementia in retaining some of their brain functions. Some of the best games feature questions from when the patient was younger. Trivia games also can be played in a social setting with friends or even online if the older person has Internet access.

Video Games

Video games are not just for children, especially with the advent of games like Brain Age or Big Brain Academy for game console systems and websites like Lumosity, Scientific Psychic or Games for the Brain. With all of these, you can exercise your mind by playing games, targeting intelligence, memory, focus, speed and response time. Choose logic, visual or spatial exercises. Games and Puzzles Word and number games, such as Scrabble and Sudoku, use rational thinking, spelling and the logic of placement and space. Since many word games allow for multiple players, they also provide important opportunities for the patient to socialise. Try three-dimensional puzzles and games that require you to add a spatial dimension to your brain’s repertoire.

Crossword puzzles also provide an intellectually stimulating exercise that requires a variety of mental activities such as logic, geometrical skills and word skills. Various card and strategy games – like chess, draughts and bridge – offer the older person a combination of social skills, planning skills and logic. Remember, even a simple game of Snap can keep the mind sharp and focussed.

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