Active, mentally engaged seniors enjoy more health benefits than those who aren't.
Studies show that older adults who remain engaged in their surroundings enjoy better health than those seniors who remain isolated or inactive. Seniors who engage with others socially live longer. Older adults who feel lonely become less able to take care of themselves and remain physically active. Engaged seniors exercise their minds and their bodies, thereby staving off physical and mental decline.
There are many ways to engage your loved one in the outside world, whether it means taking them out or bringing the world in. FirstLantic home health aides are specialists at getting adults active and engaged!
The following are real-life examples of ways senior remain engaged and active.
Explore the Internet
Ana and her husband, both in their 90s, had owned a home with a lovely rose garden in the front yard and mango and avocado trees in their backyard. After their health declined and they moved to a small condo, Ana missed gardening terribly and felt more and more depressed as her husband’s cognitive functions declined. Her teenaged great-granddaughter, Kelsey, loved to visit but didn’t know anything about gardening. However, Kelsey loved looking things up online on her laptop, and she loved Ana. This is how Ana and Kelsey discovered a shared love of exploring gardening websites.
At first, Kelsey and Ana spent quite a bit of time looking up potted plants that Ana could take care of inside her home. When the plants arrived, Ana and Kelsey worked together to find perfect spots for them around the condo. Ana couldn’t walk very far, but she and Kelsey were able to take many online “virtual walking tours” of gardens such as the one at the United States Botanic Garden (www.usbg.gov). Ana and Kelsey took Google Streetview “walks” of neighborhoods around the world using Google Earth. Ana was even able to show Kelsey the house where she grew up! Kelsey subscribed Ana to gardening mailing lists so she could receive plant catalogs and magazines. This joint project was so successful that Kelsey and Ana are now busy planning a design for a garden at Kelsey’s house.
It is quite normal for young people to feel awkward and inhibited when visiting their elderly relatives. They may feel they have nothing in common. But by involving their older relatives in their digital world, young folks can take on the role of guides to the wonders of the internet. This is a perfect way for the knowledge of the older generation to connect with the tech-savviness of the young.
Oscar had been a vibrant man with a mind like a steel-trap in his younger days. As he aged, however, Alzheimer’s began to claim his memory and his cognitive functions. He lost his interest in reading, watching TV and keeping up with sports. Luckily, his live-in caregiver refused to let him nap the days away. She discovered that, with assistance, Oscar could participate in bingo. This led to weekly bingo games on Sundays which Oscar participated in along with his wife and a few of their friends. The caregiver then purchased a set of dominoes, a game Oscar had played often in his youth. Oscar surprised everybody by staying alert and playing smoothly for hours. He was deceptively good!
Games are excellent ways for older adults to improve their cognitive functions while socializing at the same time. The trick is to find the right game! Some seniors prefer word games, but can’t see well. Look for large print crossword puzzles, enlarge newspaper puzzles by using a copier or scanner. Crossword puzzles can become a social activity when two or more people work on the puzzle together or simultaneously. It can even turn into a race to the end! Seniors might enjoy board games they played in their youth such as Parcheesi, checkers or Chinese checkers. Fun card games range from the simple Uno, Go Fish and Rummy to the challenging bridge and canasta. Websites like Seniorstore.com offer a variety of games modified specifically to make the pieces more “senior friendly.” You can find jigsaw puzzles with challenging images, but easier to handle larger pieces. Trivia games dedicated to subject matter of years past (think 1940s, 50s, 60s, etc.) will foster discussion and spark memories. Outdoor games like bocce and croquet encourage movement, strategizing and socializing.
Ed had been a long-time school counselor. After he retired, he wanted to keep busy, but he didn’t have the stamina to stand for a long time. He was also the full-time caregiver for his disabled wife, Gail. He wanted to engage with the community and be able to take a break from caregiving duties. Ed employed a home health aide who could supervise his wife and prepare their dinner while he volunteered in the after-care program at his local church.
After the home health aide arrived, Ed drove to a nearby church every school day at 2:30. He helped the program coordinator prepare snacks before the children arrived, then Ed would sit at a round table where he could help with homework assignments and behavior. Ed enjoyed the children's high spirits and banter. After helping for a couple of hours, Ed would pass by the local grocery store or pharmacy for a quick shop and then head home.
Meanwhile, Gail enjoyed some much needed “girl time” with her home health aide, Cristina. Gail liked talking about raising children, traveling, and the news. By the time Ed arrived, the home health aide had prepared a nutritious meal which he then enjoyed with Gail. They both had something new to share over a delicious meal.
Volunteering at schools, church, hospital, animal shelters or other organizations is a wonderful way of staying active and engaged in the community. Non-profit organizations need volunteers to help out. Some older adults work in hospitals at information desks or rocking premature babies. Museums need docents to show guests around the exhibits. Performing arts centers and theaters often employ senior volunteers as ushers, with the added bonus that they get to watch the play, opera or ballet for free! Websites like volunteermatch.org can help you find your loved one a volunteering opportunity tailored to his or her needs.
Join a Club
After they retired, Ken and Maria each joined clubs at their church. They decorated the church for Christmas, helped at a barbeque to raise funds for the needy and prepared baskets of goodies for pregnant teens. They relished finally having the time to help others and meeting new people. Nikki, a former flight attendant, joined her local Women’s Club. Her organizational skills and gregarious nature leant themselves perfectly for a leadership position. Within two years, Nikki was President of the Club. She has held that position for the last ten years. In that time, the Woman’s Club raised enough funds to provide scholarships for local students. The club hosted silent auctions, antique and flower shows, honorary breakfasts and “Meet the Candidates” political forums. The club keeps a medical supply loan closet for the community. With the money they raised under Nikki’s leadership, the members were able to restore their historic building. Most importantly, Nikki revitalized the club by expanding membership greatly and attracting younger members. Nikki can no longer drive at night or run around as she once did, but with the help of other members, she still carries out her leadership duties. It keeps her young and challenged.
Many older adults take great pleasure in participating local clubs. The twilight years are the perfect time to explore those hobbies that always had to take the back burner due to family and work obligations. This is a time when seniors can discover new talents by taking up choral singing, painting or pottery. Seniors who join clubs get much-needed exercise and engage socially with like-minded folks. Clubs can range from informal book clubs and knitting bees to organized bowling leagues or local branches of international service organizations, like the Optimists.
Find a Part-Time Job
Some seniors have an unbridled entrepreneurial spirit. Wally has been a photographer for his local paper since the 70s! He’s been snapping pictures of locals for over four decades and many locals know him by name. Due to his deep community ties and his cell phone, he’s often one of the first to arrive at the scene of an arrest or car accident. He’s the guy with the camera when kids line up to sit on Santa’s lap at the community center or when the high school math club wins a regional competition. He likes to shoot the breeze at local places, always ready with a witty remark. Wally is the go-to guy for advice on photography or to talk about the old days of the town. His job keeps him young.
A part-time job is a great way for seniors to stay engaged and feel useful. A little extra money always comes in useful and lets older adults retain their sense of independence. Sometimes jobs spring up as a result of special interests. Helen started her antiques business when she decided to get rid of some of her clutter. One thing led to the next, and now she’s a regular at antique shows. She loves waking up at dawn on Saturdays and planning out her garage sale strategy with her daughter. There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of finding a valuable collector’s item for a buck. Along the way, Helen has immersed herself in her hobby and is becoming quite the expert on Depression-era glassware with a little help from the Internet. Seniors are living longer than ever and reluctant to stop working. Jobs keep seniors mentally alert, socially involved and physically active.
Staying Engaged, Staying Active
Older adults live longer and stay healthier when they are engaged socially, physically and cognitively. While the physical and cognitive range of the elderly encompasses many levels of ability, all seniors benefit from engagement and activity.
If you are concerned about the health and emotional state of your loved one, contact FirstLantic. Our health professionals can help you find a solution to helping your loved one stay engaged and stay active.