All of us need activity. From the smallest child to the oldest adult, our bodies urge us to move after a time. As we age our joints become stiff and painful if we are stationary for too long, in front of a television, for instance. It is good to change positions and do something else for a time. Planning activities into our day can help alleviate some of our muscle and joint pain and rigidity. But it has far more benefits than this. It can also give our minds something to look forward to. Anticipating what we'll spend our time on during this particular day that has been given to us is just as important as the activity itself because it engages our mental faculties in new ways of problem solving, as well as future planning. It also gives us the chance to create and possibly express to others our love through the gifts that we make. The idea that it's important for our bodies to have something to do, our minds to have something to think about and our hearts to have something or someone to love in order to nourish the entire person throughout the day was proposed by an educator in the 1800's named Charlotte Mason. She was correct, of course. If we set up our days in this way with: 1. Something to do 2. Something to think about 3. Something or Someone to love, we'll find that we're never bored and always moving forward.
Activities, especially in a long term care facility can be challenging to come up with. Many of the suggestions online are for crafty projects that are not terribly useful or beautiful to look at. Yet, most people of older generations lived their lives with a great appreciation for the useful. Any kind of activity that we propose, then, should have some thought for its usefulness in mind. It will be regarded with more interest and valued more if it is proposed in this way. This is not to say that sometimes silliness is necessary to lighten the mood, but oftentimes silliness is something that happens spontaneously and cannot be planned, which is a large part of the fun! Also note that the people in our care are much older than we are and can easily recognize when they are being given, “busy work”. No one wants their time to just be idled away without value. If we're going to make a craft, then, let it be beautiful, useful or helpful to someone. If we are going to do a game, let it be well planned. If we are going on an outing, let it be interesting. Employ the mental faculties at the same time as the physical ones in order to have a much more rewarding activity. Also strive to employ different senses as you plan activities. The sense of smell, touch, taste, hearing & seeing are all at our disposal to engage those we care for in a more meaningful way.
With these things in mind, here are a few unique activities that you may not have thought of to do with patients, clients or your elderly loved one.
- Make potting soil mixes. Many people pot pretty plants with senior citizens. Buying all of that potting mix can get expensive. It is much more economical to make your own potting soil mixture. Especially in a long term care facility, the ability to make potting soil is valuable. It employs several senses and engages gross motor, as well as fine motor skills. It also employs a good deal of mental acuity without being too fussy as ratios are used between different ingredients, but it is a forgiving media!
- Grow herbs for tea or for cooking. Even in an indoor space with less than stellar lighting, herbs can be grown. Planting seeds, checking for lighting conditions and setting up a lighting system where necessary, and caring for the seedlings takes a good bit of time & mental activity. Solving problems and watching newness each day gives hope.
- Make herb mixes or tea sachets. Whether using the herbs that they've grown or store-bought ones, making herb mixes or tea bags to give as gifts can be a great activity. It will engage the sense of smell, taste and use fine motor skills. Figuring out loved ones that might appreciate these things as gifts is another great way to open their heart to the outside world.
- Working with wood. I do not mean that you should get out the table saw for your activity time in the senior center, but think about crafts that can be made using wood as a texture. Wood is a quality material to work with, and also has the benefit of smelling amazing! Final sanding can be done by most elderly. Painting can also be done. If you find a project that has selling potential, consider whether they might like to be involved in producing it for a fundraiser for something in the community. Let them know that their impact on the world is not diminished just because their bodies are aging.
- If you must use paper for crafts, consider an older craft like Paper Sloyd to make useful items out of paper. Choose heavier paper that can still be folded and cut easily. Making key tags or labels, small baskets to hold their items or even a frame for a favorite print might be an enjoyable pastime for some.
- Glass beads for garlands or sun catchers are always a good idea. Light is so important & being able to watch it pass through colored glass and dance around the room is cheering to most people. Making a garland or sun catcher using several materials can make it more visually attractive. Consider including driftwood to add a natural element.
- Pebble art has become popular in recent years. Taking pebbles or small smooth stones to make figures of people or animals can be very entertaining. Making them into scenes engages the imagination and sometimes the memory. Treat the final projects with respect by being sure they are matted and framed. Consider having a favorite quote or verse added to the masterpiece to make it a keepsake.
- If writing has become laborious, and they are no longer able to write out recipes, have them consider making customized watercolor paper recipe cards. Their loved ones can then print or write favorite family recipes onto the cards and still have a reminder of them whenever they use it.
- If crocheting and knitting is too painful on arthritic hands, but a person really enjoys working with yarn and similar textiles, consider whether weaving may be an option. Woven tops for throw pillows & even woven rugs are trending and in high demand. They would be appreciated as gifts.
There are plenty of amazing projects out there and the variations are only limited by our own creativity! Find more ideas for useful projects next week on the blog!