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How Do You Engage The Elderly In Social Activities?

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Isolation among seniors hurts more than anything else. Engaging socially is important for the elderly. Socialization is a way to build new relationships, adjust perceptions, and have fun. Not only this, social engagement might help keep seniors from depression.

So, how do you engage the elderly in social activities? To help get seniors to participate in social activities:

  • Identify and remove the barriers to participation
  • Encourage a feeling that the activity is useful or relevant
  • Have a peer invite the senior to participate

Read on to get a more in-depth idea of how to get seniors to be more socially engaged.

Benefits Of Social Engagement For Seniors

Depression is a common side effect of aging and one of the main reason seniors become depressed is being isolated and lonely. Engagement in social activities can have a positive effect on their cognitive abilities, however, and help them fight against dementia, depression, and Alzheimer’s.

“Several research studies have shown a strong correlation between social interaction and health and well-being among older adults and have suggested that social isolation may have significant adverse effects for older adults.” – National Institute on Aging

Socially engaged seniors experience a variety of benefits, including:

  • Better cognitive function: Participation in social activities keeps them mentally engaged and their minds sharp. This can reduce the risk of depression and prevent the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
  • Better overall health: If there is a range of social activities for seniors to participate in, they tend to be more physically and mentally active. In addition, connecting with others is a boost for the mood and keeps the elderly from getting depressed.
  • Better immune health: The National Institute on Aging reports that, “Positive indicators of social well-being may be associated with lower levels of interleukin-6 in otherwise healthy people. Interleukin-6 is an inflammatory factor implicated in age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer.”
  • Increased longevity: A strong social circle of friends is vital for staying happy in the senior years. A happy person is less stressed and has a better chance of living disease free. Plus, friends may encourage each other to live a healthier lifestyle.

Identify And Remove The Barriers To Participation

How do you motivate seniors to participate In activities? The simple answer – identify and remove as many barriers to participation as possible.

I know, first hand, that motivating an elderly person to engage in social activities can be tough. My father lived in a senior apartment complex that had all kinds of events and activities for the residents. But, he refused to participate in more than just a handful. Why? Because he prided himself on not looking his age (he lived there from age 95 until his passing at age 98).

You see, Dad didn’t use a cane or any other mobility aid. He was still spry, so he also got annoyed when other residents moved slowly and talked about their aches and pains because he felt that doing so “made people old.” He told me that he didn’t want to go on outings and be seen with the other residents because other people would think he was also old if he was with the group.

So, I removed that barrier by taking him to a lot of places in our city on my day off. Together, he and I saw more cultural shows, museums, and walking trails than I have in the years since he passed away (I sure do miss my “Friday Buddy”, as I called him).

For those who are shying away from participation in activities, some of the barriers that may need to be addressed and eliminated (or reduced) could be related to:

  • Language barriers
  • Fear of looking foolish
  • Concerns about the person’s ability to participate
  • Worry that they will not be able to keep up

If you senior loved one is refusing to engage in activities (social or otherwise), another thing to consider is that they may be depressed. Obvious symptoms of depression may include irritability, trouble sleeping, problems with concentration, moving or talking slowly, and being tired.

Depression in the elderly can have both emotional and physical causes, so it is important to get an assessment from the senior’s healthcare provider if you think they could be depressed.

Encourage A Feeling That The Activity Is Useful Or Relevant

People need feel productive and useful. Making a contribution by helping out can keep depression at bay and give them an emotional boost.

One way of helping them to engage in an activity is to make it relevant to these essentials.

My 93-year-old aunt still goes in once a week to work at the hospital gift shop where she has volunteered for more than three decades. She looks forward to making someone happy when she delivers flowers and gifts to their room. Her volunteer position is emotionally rewarding and socially engaging, which is partly why she’s still going strong in her nineties.

Have A Peer Invite The Senior To Participate

Okay, back to my dad and his reluctance to take part in the activities that his senior community planned for their residents. While Dad didn’t want to go on outings with the “old people,” he enjoyed music and had been part of a choral group in his younger years. He still enjoyed singing, so he eagerly looked forward to events such as when musical groups would come in to entertain them.

However, there was a lady among the residents who played the piano and would often give her own “concert” for the residents. Dad went the first few times without needing a push, due to his love of music, but he soon stopped attending whenever he knew this woman was playing.

When questioned, I discovered that the lady had a standard repertoire and played the same music, in the same order, each time she performed for the residents. Dad was bored.

“So go anyway, it gets you out of the apartment,” I’d say, to no avail.

What made him eventually start going back to her concerts? His friends in the complex began calling to invite him just before each performance.

“The use of peer mentors is another great way to boost participation, especially in Alzheimer’s care facilities. No matter how personable the activity director may be, a resident who is hesitant to participate in afternoon trivia may be more inclined to attend if a neighbor invites her, or if she knows she has someone who will sit beside her and repeat or explain the questions as needed,“ says Michelle Seitzer, senior blogger for SeniorsForLiving.com.

As Dad showed, having someone ask him to join in made all the difference. After the performance, he and his friends would go to the dining room for coffee and a gab fest, so he began looking forward to the event, despite his boredom with the performer’s music selection.

What Are Some Activities For The Elderly?

Are there any specific activities that interest the senior? These may include such things as reading, gardening, dancing, or discussion groups.

To help spark some ideas for fun activities for your senior loved one, look through the following list. NOTE: Be sure to check with the person’s doctor to be sure it is okay for them to engage in strenuous physical activity.

Enroll in a senior fitness center

A regular gym might not interest seniors; rather, the idea of hitting a gym might sound intimidating. In this case, consider enrolling them in a fitness center meant for their generation. Joining a fitness facility for seniors gives them the opportunity to meet other active elders and provides the motivation to stay physically active and healthy.

Walking

Walking is beneficial for any age group and the benefits for seniors are no different.  Walking with people of their own age keeps seniors motivated to stay physically fit, the same way going to a gym helps in this.

Walking groups can be found via websites like MeetUp.com, local Facebook groups, or at the person’s nearest senior center.

Join a dance club or group

Dancing is especially beneficial for older adults. It is good for the entire body – heart, muscles, joints, and mind. It makes people more mentally alert and reduces the risk of developing dementia.

Lifelong learning

Many colleges or adult education centers now offer classes that are specifically geared toward for seniors. These classes are often free (or very affordable) and allow them to learn new things, which keeps their minds stimulated.

My aunt and uncle take classes from the university in their hometown. They don’t have to pay for the classes, plus there are no books to purchase, and no exams to take. They simply attend a class that interests them and have learned about a variety of subjects ranging from medieval history to basic computer courses.

Swimming and water aerobics

Water exercises are fun and especially helpful for those suffering from arthritis since there is no pressure on the joints. Additionally, enrolling in a water aerobics class comes with social benefits as the person has the chance to meet other like-minded people their age with a common interest.

Senior center programs

There are senior center programs that can help an elder participate in a variety of social activities. These programs might include such things as book clubs, gardening, games, exercise programs, crafts, and cooking.

Active games

A lot of fun games involve physical activity. This is an opportunity for seniors to get some exercise and also improve their hand-eye coordination, while reaping the benefits of the mental challenges some games provide.

Active games include playing pool, golf, bocce, miniature golf, shuffleboard, tennis, croquet, badminton, ping pong, pickleball, beach ball volleyball, and lawn bowling, among others.

Biking, boating, kayaking, and canoeing are other fun activities that are excellent ways to experience the outdoors and nature.

Karaoke and similar social activities

Social activities for seniors gives them the experience of living in the moment. Activities like karaoke can make them feel young again and keep them from taking things too seriously as they find humor in their efforts at dancing or singing.

Some of the other activities that can keep seniors socially engaged include line dancing, reading stories to young kids, acting in a play, and improve comedy.

Animal interactions

Cute and cuddly animals are a huge attraction for people of any age. Seniors are no exception. Many animals enjoy being petted and cuddled, so interacting with furry friends is mutually beneficial.

If there are no pets at home, seniors can volunteer at local animal shelters or with rescue groups to give the resident animals some quality attention and playtime.

Art and crafts

Seniors who have creative skills often enjoy arts and crafts groups. Playing with chalks, glue, crayons, and paints allows them to unleash their inner child. It’s always highly energizing to channel your energy into being creative.

When a senior engages in a creative activity, their imagination comes alive and more and more ideas hit the mind. Joining classes and learning new skills reignites a sense of vitality.

Creative activities include water coloring, finger painting, painting with oils or acrylics, ceramics, sketching, mosaics, papercraft, clay modeling, embroidery, knitting, and crocheting.

Tours and excursions

Going out on an excursion is always fun and entertaining. When seniors become an active part of excursion groups, they will also get the opportunity for social bonding. What’s more, senior excursions to theme parks, comedy clubs, carnivals, art shows, concerts, wineries, sporting events, beer festivals, and science museums offer learning experiences, as well as fun.

Traditional games

Seniors used to enjoy more traditional games in their youth and memories of the fun they had still can bring a cheerful smile to their face. So it is a good idea to help them engage in the kinds of activities that have remained their perennial favorites.

Board games and card games can give seniors a great way to socialize. Not only this, the time spent on such activities provides mental stimulation to help keep their minds sharp.

Volunteering and charitable works

Giving back to the community can create a huge sense of belonging and accomplishment in the elderly. Look for charitable projects with religious organizations, local charities, and hospitals.

Volunteer activities might include creating no-sew blankets, crocheting blankets, knitting hats, or assembling care packages. Additionally, a senior might enjoy volunteering in a soup kitchen or with a hospital, in a pet shelter, with their religious center, or with an organization such as Meals on Wheels or the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery Program.

Give a Life Experience talk

Give seniors an opportunity to share their life’s experiences. Finding someone to talk to is a great way to get them out of isolation and recharge their mind. You might start by asking your senior loved one to record their thoughts and life’s experiences in writing or in a video on your phone.

Give them the freedom to share their experience about anything, including a special event in their life or whatever they want to speak about. You can research and write a list of questions to help prompt their memory.

Some seniors might enjoy talking to a group in a school setting (maybe in a World War II history class?) or in a storytelling session at a local history club.

Get a job

Although the majority of seniors were happy to leave the working world behind when they retired, some may still enjoy the social aspects of working part time. The extra income could be helpful, too.

My father worked as a part time cashier at a local grocery store for a decade after he retired. He felt needed and also enjoyed the fact that the job was not demanding, the way his career job had been. Your senior parent may feel the same way.

What Activities Can Help Dementia Patients?

When planning activities for someone with dementia, make sure the event has some meaning and isnn’t just being used to fill time. You may have to modify the activity to accommodate the person’s current abilities and cognitive skills.

Also, Alzheimer’s and dementia can cause changes in the person’s senses, so try to keep the activity from being too overwhelming or frustrating for them. If it does seem like they are becoming over-stimulated, take a break or continue the activity another time.

Additionally, if you are doing something together, keep in mind that you want the activity to be enjoyable for both of you. Don’t put too much emphasis on the results – rather, just enjoy the time you spend with the senior.

Alzheimers.net recommends the following activities, designed to stimulate interest and enjoyment in someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s:

  1. Make or cook simple recipes together.
  2. Clean around the house.Sweep the patio, wipe the table, fold towels or try other household tasks that help the person feel a sense of accomplishment.
  3. Do arts and crafts, such as knitting and painting. Keep patterns and tools simple.
  4. Look at books the person used to enjoy. [Editor’s note: Photo albums or travel books with lots of images can help the person remember fun times from their past, as well as helping them feel more engaged.}
  5. Organize household or office items, particularly if the person used to take pleasure in organizational tasks.
  6. Read the newspaper.
  7. Play music or sing songs.
  8. Tend the garden or visit a botanical garden.
  9. Watch family videos.
  10. Work on puzzles.

Adult day care programs may also be a good option for a person with dementia or Alzhemier’s. These are professionally managed facilities where the person can spend the day engaging in therapy, recreational programs, social interaction, and getting meals. These day care programs can be a great way for a caregiver to get a little break from their duties, as well.

Conclusion

Any activity that encourages seniors to come out of isolation will help improve their quality of life. Physical activities are meant to keep them physically and mentally active. Social interaction has several benefits, from building bonds to getting motivation from each other. However, before enrolling your senior in a physical activity or a new exercise regimen, you should get their physician’s approval.

Social activities for seniors help boost their self-esteem while giving them an opportunity to share their experiences and express their feelings to others. Additionally, such activities are important because they can help improve the person’s cognitive ability and prevent age-related diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

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