It used to be that activities for the elderly were confined to sedate and often sedentary tasks, such as extremely low-impact exercise and craft projects. Today, elderly people are often just as physically and mentally vibrant as their younger friends and relatives, and the things that engage them are both meaningful and active. Though you do need to understand any frailties of the people you're planning activities for, the activities they can engage in are wide ranging. Consider these ideas to get your activity-planning underway.
Ask the elderly individuals about their interests rather than approaching activity planning with your own assumptions. Asking open-ended questions about what the seniors enjoy is the best way to discover interests and start your planning.
Evaluate the physical needs of the group of people for whom you're planning activities. You want to ensure that the activity allows everyone in the group to participate. For example, you wouldn't want to plan a painting group if someone has such severe arthritis in their hands that it's uncomfortable to hold a paintbrush.
Consider physical activity to keep the elderly individuals in top shape—both physically and mentally. The best activities present a challenge, taking seniors beyond simply walking. For example, an activity like strength training can increase confidence as well as strength. Dance classes are another option; USA Today reports on a study by Patricia McKinley of McGill University in Montreal showed that seniors who learned Argentine tango improved their brain function as well as their physical health.
Seek out travel opportunities that help the elderly explore their interests. If they're interested in wildlife, botany or outdoor photography, you can look for a hiking trail that matches their walking stamina. If they're interested in history, you can plan a day of historic tourism.
Encourage the elderly to share their knowledge with others through public speaking. Contact local schools to see if seniors may be able to speak about their experiences or specialized knowledge in classrooms or in a whole-school assembly. Churches, non-profit groups and community centers may also have speaking opportunities.
Volunteer for a favorite cause as a group. For example, seniors can participate in hands-on volunteer activities such as helping refugees learn English and local customs, distributing food at a food bank or caring for homeless animals at a local shelter. Those with specialized or professional skills, such as writing, editing or accounting, can donate those skills to a nonprofit organization.
Ensure that the activity is meaningful and engaging so the seniors feel enriched by it, rather than feeling as if you’re just trying to keep them busy. If your activity will take place away from the seniors’ homes, let them know how long the activity will last so they can bring any necessary medication or other supplies with them.