One thing is certain, you are never too old to appreciate the appeal of a fresh, new year where exciting opportunities await. “Love the life you have and make the most of it every day,” said Jim Morrison, executive director of Redmond Care & Rehab Center. Once the ball drops on New Year’s Day, and the party hats and horns are put away until next December, it’s time to embark on some activities that will improve health, strengthen or reconnect relationships with family and friends, and inspire new challenges for everyone to enjoy. “Participation in meaningful activities has been shown to buffer against depression, a common risk in long-term care living,” said Paula Spencer Scott. With a little creative thinking (and a van, at times), 2017 can be a year worth celebrating, especially with these senior center activities.
When one day isn’t enough to ring in a new year, here are seven ideas that will keep the party going all month (or all year) long.
1. New Menu Mondays
In cooperation with the nutrition staff, residents can explore the world through unique culinary tastes. For a new twist, why not offer membrillo or rambutan for dessert? Better yet, invite a local chef to visit for the day and cook up regional delicacies while sharing interesting factoids about a culture. Anyone interested in a second helping of adobo?
2. ”Do You Know Your Neighbor?” Challenge
In conjunction with a resident spotlight, testing residents’ knowledge of who is sitting next to them during lunch is a fun way to ignite friendships and encourage social interaction. During a special “neighbor potluck” meal, residents guess who the spotlight neighbor is by listening to interesting facts about the mystery person. Be sure to highlight the resident’s hobbies or skills. Depending on his or her abilities, it may be a skill that can be shared during a future activity.
3. Learn A Second Language
New studies show there is no decline in an older adult’s ability to learn a new language.
“Adults learn differently from children, but no age-related differences in learning ability have been demonstrated for adults of different ages,” said Mary Schleppegrell. “The greatest obstacle to older adult language learning is the doubt–in the minds of both learner and teacher.” Once you overlook that stereotype, residents can try their hand at a variety of communicative forms, including sign language. Benvenuto to a new world!
4. New Hobby Challenge
Sometimes, opportunity is key. Inviting residents to try a new hobby can be as easy as placing a paintbrush in front of them or turning on some music and introducing a new dance move. Many centers also host computer courses so residents can feel more connected to the world–and their families. One hour of Skype or Facetime instruction enables a resident to rebuild and reconnect with those they love and miss seeing regularly.
Some centers have collaborated with others to host a “Pen Pal” program between residents. Residents of both facilities can share stories via email or hangouts. The goal is to introduce new interests and learning opportunities that can be celebrated throughout the year.
5. Fit Club
Practicing healthy habits is something we never outgrow. “If members of the geriatric population can incorporate daily exercise routines into their lifestyle, many studies have revealed such choices to have numerous benefits to not only their physical health but their social health as well,” said Loren Grush of Fox News Health.
Regular exercise improves cardiovascular health and reduces the risk of cancer and diabetes. Activities could vary throughout the year, such as hosting a walking club during the warmer months then offer a Wii bowling or dance tournament when the weather is cold. Many centers now teach yoga, Tai Chi, or moderate aerobics classes for those looking for a good stretch to start the day off right.
6. Pet Therapy
At some centers, walking the dog is a welcome activity. “Sometimes, as seniors age, they become more withdrawn and solitary, losing both the desire and ability to develop new relationships,” said Erin Courtenay. “Not only do pets offer much-needed companionship, but they can increase the quantity and the quality of social interactions among their human owners.”
Courtenay added that fish and birds could encourage healthy behaviors as well. She referred to a study out of Purdue University where Alzheimer’s patients began to eat more healthy when aquariums were installed in the dining rooms.
7. Music Therapy
Ringing in the new year is worth singing about, and what better way than through the healthy benefits of music. Studies show that even minimal movement can release mental and physical stress. “For many seniors who are able, dancing to music is a wonderful way to exercise,” said the staff at Retire At Home Services. “Being swept into the rhythm of music can lower blood pressure and stimulate organs in the body.” Just watch how residents react to a visit from the popular musical group The Piano Guys.
For those living in senior care, this isn’t the time to merely watch another year pass by. Instead, use these seven ideas of senior center activities to embrace the gift of a new year with opportunities that provide better health, meaningful relationships, and exciting new adventures.