Older adults can sometimes feel as if their world is shrinking around them. If their hearing and eyesight are starting to fail, they may begin to withdraw from social activities — even those with family members.
They may also have other physical limitations that prevent them from doing some of the activities they’ve always enjoyed, especially if they’ve had a stroke or a disease such as Parkinson’s that has left them with less than complete control of their body. Those who are living with dementia may have their own set of concerns about participating in social activities or hobbies.
As it becomes more difficult to do familiar activities, it’s easy for older adults to stop trying, out of frustration. That can lead to apathy, which can lead to inactivity.
If your parent has started spending hours on end in front of the TV because there seems to be little else to do, take heart. Even if physical or cognitive limitations restrict some of their abilities, older adults can continue to engage in a variety of activities. And, in the right setting, they might even engage with other people.
The whole point is for them to enjoy what they’re doing.
Back to Art Class
We’ve had great success motivating residents in both assisted living and our memory care program to take part in the arts and crafts activities we regularly offer.
It makes perfect sense if you think about it. While there may be less focus today on making things by hand, it was quite common a few generations ago. Knitting, sewing, crocheting, quilting, and woodworking were skills handed down from one generation to the next. Art class was a favorite among elementary school students. Even kids who attended summer camp usually made something to take back home to their parents.
For people who had (or were) children back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, making things was often more than a way to express some creativity. Sometimes it was a practical use of one’s time — the end result may have been something to wear or use around the house. Other times, it was purely to have something to do.
That’s why, even today, these artistic pursuits are still among favorite hobbies for seniors.
Before Introducing a New Activity
When considering an art-related pastime for an older adult in the home setting, there are several factors to keep in mind, such as:
Is this something he/she will actually like to do?
You probably have a good idea as to whether your parent might enjoy a particular creative activity. In some cases, though, you may only be able to discover a new interest through trial and error.
Are there physical limitations that might get in the way?
If manual dexterity is an issue, then using knitting needles, scissors, and other tools might not be an option. If macular degeneration or another eye disease has led to a deterioration in eyesight, then, for example, an adult coloring book with too many fine details in the drawings isn’t a good choice.
Are there cognitive limitations to take into account?
In general, arts and crafts projects don’t require much in terms of complex thought processes. This makes them ideal for many adults with dementia, including those with Alzheimer’s disease. Just bear in mind that if the project is too complicated, your parent will likely grow frustrated and want to quit.
Is the activity safe?
If your parent has physical or cognitive limitations, then this question most likely is at the forefront of every decision you make where he/she is concerned. With regard to artistic endeavors, sharp tools and potentially toxic materials (e.g., paint and glue) need to be evaluated.
How much supervision will be necessary?
Will you be able to make sure that your parent has the necessary supplies and then step away, checking in periodically to see how it’s going? Or will someone need to stay there the entire time?
Specific Types of Artistic Activities for Seniors
The best activity for anyone, regardless of age, is one that sparks some interest. As you’ve no doubt learned over the years, if a person isn’t interested in doing something, then time and other resources devoted to the project or activity will be for naught.
Some people, when an artsy kind of activity is mentioned, will say something like, “Oh, but I’m not creative.” That doesn’t matter. As we tell residents here at Park Senior Villas, it’s not the end result that matters. It’s the process of getting there.
Here are some suggestions:
- Scrapbooking (trips down memory lane may be especially enjoyable)
- Painting (paint-by-number kits are an easy way to begin)
- Jewelry making (can be as simple as stringing beads)
- Woodworking (highly ability-dependent)
- Adult coloring books (inexpensive and available in many themes)
- Suncatchers and windchimes (instructions can be found online)
- Holiday crafts (includes decorations and gifts)
- Making greeting cards for all occasions
- Rock painting (social media has made this very popular in some communities)
- Photo collages (can include personal photos or images from magazines)
- Sewing, knitting, and crocheting (items can be donated or given as gifts)
- Craft kits for seniors (you’ll find an endless assortment online)
Suggested Activities for Dementia Patients
Many of the art projects and activities listed above are suitable for older adults who are experiencing the early to middle stages of dementia. Some may even be fine for those with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, with some adaptations.
You may be in the best position to determine which activities are most appropriate for your parent if he or she has dementia. If your parent has a regular caregiver, then it’s always a good idea to discuss new activities with that person. Oftentimes caregivers can provide insights that family members might not be aware of.
The key to successfully engaging someone with dementia in any activity is supervision.
For older adults with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, activities that invoke memories can be especially helpful. Scrapbooking and journaling are good possibilities.
Activities that involve music — particularly music popular during their “heyday” — seem to be helpful in stimulating their cognitive processes.
Brain games, though not always thought of as an artistic hobby, are also often excellent choices. For example, there are books with images in a diverse range of topics that are similar to “Where’s Waldo?” — where you have to find a certain hidden element within each image.
Again, the main idea is to have fun.
Why Artistic Activities Work So Well at Park Senior Villas
Since we are different from many other retirement communities, we’ve found that arts and crafts projects have a significantly positive impact on the quality of life for residents here.
Part of it is our setting — each resident has his or her own spacious bedroom with a full, private bathroom, and just outside their bedroom door is the main room in the villa. This is where other residents in the home spend time together and where we typically “work” on shared activities.
Hearing other residents having conversations and enjoying themselves will often draw a quieter person who is maybe a little on the shy side out into the main room. They may only watch at first, but eventually, they almost always decide to join in.
We gently encourage residents to participate, but it’s always up to them.
Another reason that these projects tend to be so successful here is that we work primarily with adults in assisted living or memory care. And, as much as possible, we have residents who are at the same level of need together in the same villas.
All of this allows us to tailor our activities to the residents within a given villa. And because our staff-to-resident ratio is so low, we’re able to provide close attention to residents while they’re participating in the various activities.
In addition, through the close relationships between residents and our staff members, we get to know more about each of the residents as a unique person — their likes, dislikes, interests, old hobbies, skills, etc. This information also comes in handy when we’re planning activities for each villa.
How Activities for Seniors Add to Quality of Life
Having a sense of purpose is important for each and every one of us, no matter what age we are. For some, that sense of purpose is tied directly to their career. When that’s the case, the sense of purpose can disappear after retirement. It’s crucial to find a replacement.
One way to find a new sense of purpose is to try different types of activities. This can also be therapeutic, as it can:
- Encourage socialization and prevent isolation
- Provide cognitive, emotional, and physical stimulation
- Improve one’s sense of self
- Promote self-expression
- Offer great reasons to anticipate each new day
What’s Happening at Park Senior Villas
Arts and crafts are popular in our communities, for sure, but they’re just some of the many activities we provide for residents day in and day out. You can see what else is going on in each of our locations by checking out our activities calendars. (After clicking on the link, scroll to the bottom of the page.)
If you’d like to take a tour or learn more about how your loved one could benefit from taking part in our activities, we encourage you to contact us. We’re always happy to answer your questions.