How to keep your aging loved one engaged in the community

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As we age, social engagement and activities are just as important, if not more important, as when we were younger.

“Activity engagement is important for seniors because it gives them a purpose,” said Ashley Weiser, director of activities with Elderwood, a leading provider of senior care services.

Activities keep people involved socially, mentally, physically and emotionally. Seniors often tend to isolate themselves, which can lead to depression and other mental health issues. “Staying involved and being around others definitely helps with senior’s quality of life, attitude, and overall well being,” said April Brownson, director of activities with Elderwood, specializing in individualized care.  

Ways seniors can stay active and engaged within the community

There are many ways for seniors to stay involved in their communities, whether they live independently, in an assisted living facility or in a skilled nursing facility.

Volunteering is a great way to stay involved in the community. There are many places seniors can volunteer, including libraries, hospitals, community centers, and churches. “Whether you’re providing visits to patients, helping in the gift shop, or listening to people if they need to talk, these are all ways seniors can get involved in their community,” said Brownson.

Many schools are open to having seniors come in and read to students, which benefits both the seniors and children alike. Children can learn a great deal from the experience, and in return, seniors enjoy a feeling of fulfillment knowing that they’re making a difference in a child’s life.

If a senior is in an assisted or skilled nursing facility and may not have the option to volunteer, there are other ways they can stay involved and help their community. One way is by donating. Residents can work together on making cards to send to hospitals in their area, make blankets and donate them to homeless shelters. They can make bookmarks and give them to the library for people to take when they are looking for a good book, or collect food to send to a community pantry. All these things give seniors a sense of worth and a way to stay connected to their communities.

“Activity programs need to meet the physical, social, emotional, and religious needs of seniors. Activities should give the senior a sense of usefulness and allow them to use their full potential to the best of their ability. Programs should be altered as needed to allow all seniors the option to participate,” Brownson added.

Types of activities offered at skilled nursing or assisted living facilities include exercise programs that promote staying physically active as a senior, which is important because it can help to prevent a variety of common diseases. It can also help a senior to maintain or build their strength and flexibility, which will help them participate in outings and other events that get them out and into the community.

“Everyone needs a goal to stay positive and focused,” said Weiser. “People in general feel a sense of achievement once something is completed whether it be washing the dishes or writing a book. Staying busy is good, many seniors were active with raising their families and had jobs, so a schedule is key.”

Mental stimulation programs such as word games and trivia are vital because cognitive decline is common in seniors. It’s essential to keep their brains engaged which can ultimately reduce stress, improve their memory and delay cognitive impairment.

“Encouragement is very important to get residents involved. It allows seniors to try new things, use their creativity, and keep their minds sharp,” said Brownson.

Creating a connection

Having a personal connection is very important with keeping seniors engaged. Creating life story packets for neighbors or families of seniors can capture and celebrate the details of their life. These packets include information from a senior’s background with personal history. It details their upbringing as a child, information about their families, friends, religious beliefs, education, work history and interests. This is how connections and care can be individualized, especially with assisting with memory care.

Some of the most popular engagement activities with seniors involve music, since it evokes familiar memories and feelings.

“Music is the way to life and it makes you want to move, and lyrics are easily recalled,” said Weiser.

When engaging with seniors it is important to connect and carry on conversations about life, what’s happening in current events, incorporating new trends and sharing ideas.

“They have had many life experiences and they’re not done living. They still want to feel involved,” said Weiser.