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Nursing Home Activities

Updated on February 23, 2011

Nursing Home Activities

If you are an activity director or volunteer for activities in a nursing home, assisted living facility or any other care facility for seniors, than you know you need good and varied ideas for activities to do with the elderly. Because the elderly often have health limitations many activities for active adults and seniors must be modified. In cases of Alzheimer's and other dementia, some children's activities are better suited to the abilities of the seniors.

Here we hope to provide you with some nursing home activities that you can do and modify further as needed.

Thanks for joining us!

Nursing Home Activities / Assisted Living Activities

Seniors in Assisted Living homes may not be able to do everything a younger and more agile person can do, but they certainly can still be active and not everything has to be done while sitting or lying down.

Activities can be creatively modified to incorporate canes, walkers, slower movement, sitting, etc, but still offer the elderly opportunities for fitness, health, brain activity, laughter, participation and good quality daily living.

Where images of bingo and bridge easily come to mind as activities for assisted living seniors, you should also consider Nintendo Wii, wheelchair races, dress up parties, sing alongs, dances, crafts, cooking, baking and so very much more.

Nintendo Wii can offer bowling, golf and other balance and agility movements that don't have to jeopardize an elderly persons balance and risk of falling. Musical instruments can aid in relaxation, creative expression and group participation as well. Crafts can give the elderly a project that requires some focus, creativity and sense of accomplishment when completed. These can be shown off or given as gifts to their friends or family.

No matter how old one gets the joy of singing and laughing will always leave one feeling happier and joyful. All the more it should be a regular part of the lives of the elderly since they can begin to feel down about their health, distance from family or their simple lack of enthusiasm.

With the availability of CD's and DVD's a senior in assisted living can have a library of old-time TV or radio shows at their disposal such as "The Lucy Show", "Laugh In", "Abbot and Costello", "Perry Mason", "Gunsmoke", "Bob Hope" and many more. Sing along DVD's can be used by one senior, but create a fun atmosphere for many senior citizens to join in together for some much-loved and remembered favourites. Use these during a party and when not dancing to the music, they can all be singing along.

More activities for seniors in assisted living are:

  • Gardening

  • Computer class

  • Pet visits

  • Bible studies

  • Trivia games

  • Vaudeville night

  • Movie night

  • Pizza parties

  • Dance-a-thons

  • Wheelchair/walker races

  • Costume parties

  • Photo sessions

  • Barbecues

  • Story telling

  • Crafts


Gift Ideas for Nursing Home Residents

Every year caregivers in nursing homes and assisted living facilities must deal with the challenge of gift ideas to their resident's. In an attempt to make this task a little easier for you, here are some ideas for gifts as well as a few ways in which you might consider distributing the gifts to the resident's in your facility.

Give each resident a paper cut out Christmas picture (tree, bell, angel, star) and ask them to write on the back, their name and a few items they might like to receive, maybe some things they need. These can then be put on a wall, bulletin board, or a Christmas tree and staff can pick them and use them to buy gifts for the residents.

You might want to have a dollar limit of $10 or so, or this could get quite expensive. A list should be kept as well, of the resident's names and the staff member who picked them. You don't want to find, at the last minute, that some residents were missed. It could be helpful to have the purchased gifts brought in a few days before you are handing them out, just to go through your list and be sure everyone is accounted for.

If there is a possibility that staff may not want to buy for some specific residents, for whatever personal reasons, maybe picking names anonymously would be better. They could draw names out of a hat. To take the anonymous idea one step further, you could simply have staff choose male or female and then each resident gets whatever is gifted for their gender, rather than items specific for them. It might also be an idea to have a few of these types of gifts available for new residents arriving to your facility who came after your lists were made up. You really don't want anyone missed.

If there are just too many residents for the staff to purchase for, consider asking local churches or organizations like Boy Scouts to participate.

Another gift idea is to put together some beautiful baskets that can be raffled off. The raffle tickets can be easy enough to make with a computer and printer, then stapled together. The baskets could be themed such as "Beauty" with lotions and soaps, or "Movies" with popcorn, candy, a movie DVD, etc. The tickets could be sold for a dollar or two to resident's families as they come to visit, or the boy scouts could sell them for you. The money could be used to help buy gifts for the residents as well, or pay for some of the Christmas party.

The gifts can be taken to each resident's room, or handed out by Santa at a Christmas Party.

You could also have some extra fun distributing the gifts at a party if you had a large plastic dice the residents could throw, taking turns. If they throw a number you have chosen specific for the game, such as a 4 for example, they can choose from the gift wrapped gifts under the tree. These should be labelled male or female. Then some time could be added after the gifts were all chosen and before they are unwrapped, for a swapping round. If another particular number is rolled on the dice, the resident can choose to swap with another person or keep what they have. Game over when the time is up.

Gift ideas

These are also good gift ideas for senior citizen's that are not in a care facility.

Inexpensive gift ideas:

  • stuffed animals

  • clothes

  • pyjamas

  • sweaters

  • shoes

  • socks

  • slippers

  • scarves

  • hats

  • gloves

  • underwear

  • nail polish

  • books (fiction, history, hobby specific, large print, audio, picture)

  • magazines

  • puzzle books (word search/crossword)

  • jigsaw puzzles

  • box of greeting cards (they can use throughout the year to write to friends)

  • stationary

  • pens

  • games

  • music CD's

  • craft items

  • tissues

  • lotions

  • soap

  • candy

  • chocolate

  • cookies

  • coupons

  • deck of cards

  • plaques

  • calendars

  • grooming items

  • personal photo album

  • costume jewellery

  • craft kit

Pricier gift ideas:

disposable camera (and developing)

audio books (if you can find or download inexpensive ones)

DVD's (old TV series such as Gunsmoke, I Love Lucy, etc)

CD's (nature sounds, old time radio shows like Jack Benny, Bob Hope, George Burns, etc)

  • purse

  • wallet

  • Bible

  • Robe

  • lap robe

  • jackets

  • afghan or blanket

  • magnifiers

  • reading lights

  • bird feeders

  • Decorative or ornate box for special items or jewellery

  • picture frames

  • radio

  • clocks

If you don't find the exact gift idea that works for the resident or senior you have in mind, these can be a help to get you started. Many of these gift ideas can also be personalized to make them a little more meaningful.

How to Create Trivia Questions for Nursing Home Activities Fun!

What is it?
What is it?

Creating good senior trivia questions can be a little harder than it would first seem. Usually it is a matter of simply asking yourself what a good question would be for an interesting answer. Although it doesn't sound like a difficult thing to do, once you test your questions on someone else you can better gauge how easy or how difficult they really are.

When looking for good senior trivia questions of your own, to stay in keeping with a particular senior facility or a seniors own life, the people they know and the events that have taken place in their life, you need to simply begin by writing down many answers. Be careful that your answers are not too difficult for most people to be able to answer. It can take the fun out of a game quickly if most people just become spectators of who else will guess the answer first!

Once you have a list of answers, formulate the question. Slowly add more detail to complicate it. If you add details immediately you might make it too difficult right away, and because you know the answer, you may not think to revisit it for revision. Take these steps going carefully through all your answers, and then test them out on several people.

If you have a seniors facility with seniors of varying memory capabilities and they will all be participating, it is important to keep in mind that some questions be very easy, even obvious, for these select patients. If playing trivia with seniors that have memory difficulties, you may like to try visual cues in addition to asking the questions. For example when asking the questions, "How many legs does a chair have?" or "Who was the main actor in the TV show 'Gunsmoke'?" you could hold up pictures of a chair, or the actor James Arness, respectively. (Nurses or caregivers can offer slight help to individuals, but be careful not to make it obvious to the others!).

Prizes can be fun to use with trivia games. Don't save them all for the end of the game; for the person who got the most right answers, for instance. Offer some prizes for whoever can guess some of the more complicated questions, who can guess the fastest, or who can guess 'how many of' questions. The air can get electric with some on the edge of their seats and many with the answers on the tip of their tongues!

Trivia is particularly useful in a care facility or senior center when focused around a holiday, or a month long theme such as Christmas or Luau. There is trivia available for purchase for almost every occasion, country, ethnic origin, or entertainment media you can think of. If finding or purchasing the trivia you need is too difficult, then you can simply design your own questions as I've outlined above. Of course, it can be very helpful to get many other people contributing their ideas for the trivia questions too.

sing alongs for seniors
sing alongs for seniors

Enjoy Nursing Home Sing Alongs!

If you are a caregiver of seniors in a nursing home, assisted living facility or even a caregiver for a senior at home, you know that music is special in their lives. Seniors enjoy a good tune and can appreciate an uplifting beat to help get them out of the doldrums and put a smile on their face if for no other reason then they feel happy. That's why group sing along songs for seniors is such a fun time.

The elderly enjoy the memories that come back to them with some of the music they are most familiar with from their past. The kind of music they most enjoy is harder to find. And there are fewer people that can relate to it with them.

Seniors love group sing alongs. The group together can appreciate the old tunes they know and love. They can share memories with each other about the songs. Something special happens when a group sings together. It's a little more energized than just listening to it alone. If you've organized a group sing along for seniors, than you know what I mean. Even seniors at home enjoy going out to be with others to enjoy music and sing as a group.

What are the best group sing along songs for seniors?

It isn't as easy to find them anymore, but they are out there. You can get some oldies music on CD's, but DVD's are a little harder to find. Even VHS is increasingly more difficult to locate. Almost any songs that the seniors know are good for a group sing along, but depending on your audience louder and faster paced music might not be suitable. Alzheimer's and other dementia can make it difficult for some seniors to enjoy faster paced and louder songs, so you should keep that in mind when selecting your music.

Period music is good. This can help bring back pleasant memories of family, childhood and earlier milestones in their lives. Love songs are always a good bet, and there is ethnic music too. German or Scottish flavour tunes, for example, can really cheer the elderly that grew up in these homelands. Ask the seniors in your care what type of music they do enjoy and provide that for them. Not everyone in a group will know all the ethnic songs though.

Where do you find them?

Sing alongs provided on DVD can offer something to look at like the musicians or other singers, while singing along. You can find many of the classic oldies that seniors know and love on DVD's from Melodic Memories. In addition to the classics, they also have Christmas songs and traditional Gospel.

Give the gift of music to the seniors in your care with a fun time planned with music and song. With group sing along songs for seniors, not only will the seniors have a good time, but you will too!

Micheal Jackson meets ... the Nursing Home!

Alzheimer's Activities
Alzheimer's Activities

Alzheimer's and Dementia Activities

Alzheimer's activities require a delicate balance for the caregiver to provide adequate activity and preoccupation, but without over-stimulating a patient to the point of frustration, embarrassment and depression. As a Caregiver, do you know what types of activities are most beneficial to an Alzheimer's patient? Further care must be taken for the most appropriate activities for those that have progressed further with the disease as their cognition and mobility may be further compromised.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, the top 10 Alzheimer's symptoms clearly show that cognitive function is the first thing affected.

The top ten Alzheimer's symptoms are:

  • Memory changes that disrupt daily life

  • Challenges in planning or solving problems

  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure

  • Confusion with time or place

  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships

  • New problems with words in speaking or writing

  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps

  • Decreased or poor judgment

  • Withdrawal from work or social activities

  • Changes in mood and personality

A caregiver must be able to determine a senior's capacity for some activities. A seniors self-confidence is lost when they feel frustrated that they can't do something right or can't remember the rules of a game. Therefore, it is important to remember that an activity itself is the goal, not a specific outcome.

Simple repetition can be very good for cognition as well. Many tasks that might otherwise seem boring and uninteresting are perfect as an activity for Alzheimer's because they can contribute a sense of accomplishment. Caregivers should enable the senior to continue in activities that utilize skills they still retain from before the onset of the disease.

According to many research studies, some mild physical activity is most recommended for those suffering cognitive dysfunction because of the increase of oxygen to the brain. This can aide in slowing down the progress of the disease, and it helps elevate a senior's mood and promotes relaxation. Inactivity can contribute to a senior's susceptibility to depression because they feel unproductive. They may begin to feel they can't do something only because they aren't encouraged to do it. This is where a caregiver must exercise an intuitive sense of what the senior is actually capable of, and should be doing to keep their body and mind occupied.

Simple and repetitive activities, such as folding towels or laundry, sweeping, polishing, mixing, and walks, can help reduce anxiety. The repetitive nature of these activities eliminates the need for memory and judgement and can give the senior a sense of usefulness.

It is important to keep an activity appropriate to their ability. To over-stimulate a senior with memory difficulty can add frustration for both the senior and the caregiver. It may also cause the senior to withdraw further to avoid embarrassment and frustration.

Here is a list of some activities for Alzheimer's to consider:

  • Simple games

  • puzzles

  • watering plants

  • dusting

  • polishing

  • flower arranging

  • playing cards

  • folding laundry or towels

  • taking a walk

  • baking cookies

  • mixing ingredients

  • cooking

  • baking cookies

  • watching movies

  • reading aloud

  • listening to music

  • singing songs

  • dancing

  • weeding and gardening

  • looking up names in a phone book

  • reminiscing

  • looking at old family photographs

  • simple conversation

  • cutting simple pictures from greeting cards

  • playing or moulding clay or play dough

Teaching Seniors how to play the Wii

Touch and Aromatherapy for Alzheimer's and Dementia

Touch Therapy

Those who suffer with later stages of Alzheimer's and other dementia lose most cognitive and communicative functioning and require constant care. This care needs to cover all of the patients needs from emotional to physical needs for feeding and being clothed.

There are many things a caregiver can do to help connect with and stimulate a senior with dementia, and one of the most effective is the activities that stimulate them by touch and smell. Visual stimulations usually only last a short time because the memory recall becomes shorter and they are more easily distracted. This can feed frustration, agitation, mood swings, and stress reactions.

Tactile and aroma stimulations can bring calm and relaxation. Consider a dementia sufferer that is usually always tense, moody, and impatient. Using lotion or massage oils, you could take their hand or foot and begin a gentle massage. The touch, being soft and gentle, will calm them almost immediately. As you continue to rub the oil or lotion onto their skin with slow and careful movement, you will begin to notice a calm coming over them. Their shoulders will drop and they will become less defensive and argumentative. Touching the skin this way begins to slow their heartbeat, alleviates anxiety and relaxes the mind and therefore the mood.

Don't underestimate the therapeutic effect of touch. It can convey love, caring, acceptance, approval and even just an acknowledgment that you hear them, know them, and see them. Even the subconscious can detect when a person is just a 'project' or burden, or if those around them really care. This can add to the tension.

If you are a family or friend caregiver to a dementia sufferer, use this time for yourself as well. Enjoy it. Appreciate this time of gentle touch and let it communicate your heart, your love and affection to this loved one of yours. If you are a caregiver in a facility, be mindful of the life in your hands and the quality of life you are extending to them as a caregiver. You are offering them a connection they would not otherwise have at this time, and in some cases, you may be as close to them as a distant family member would love to be.

Dementia Activity - Aromatherapy

This dementia activity of touch and massaging lotion and oils can be coupled with aromatherapy. Aromatherapy for dementia has been clinically proven, in some cases, to be effective in the treatment of behaviour in dementia sufferers in hospitals.

Dementia aromatherapy can be effective as an activity for caregiver of Alzheimer's patients because the aromas can penetrate past the olfactory neurons. Many later stage dementia patients lose significant sensitivity to aromas, but aromas can be absorbed into the bloodstream and carried to the brain where they can elicit specific reactions.

There a few aromatherapy essential oils that you may find helpful. A few that have been used are:

  • Lemon Balm- has calming and anti-stress properties, has been used as a memory enhancer in earlier stages of memory loss.

  • Lavender- used as a relaxant and has sedative qualities when inhaled.

  • Sweet Marjoram- helps to relieve anxiety, stress and hyperactivity in some.

Essential oils should be diluted before use. They may be found already diluted in lotions, creams or other oils (carriers). Potent or pure essential oils may be used as a few drops in a hot bath or bowl of water, as a foot bath, a room spray, or on a towel or pillowcase (being careful of any possible allergic reactions). Be careful not to put essential oils directly on the skin. Refrigerate the oils when not in use.

These essential oils may not have the same effect on everyone, but they can be very helpful to some. Seniors and those with Alzheimer's and other dementia, connect with the world around them through their five senses. A disconnection with the only world they've known, whether cognitively or emotionally, can add to the stress, anxiety and frustration of a condition they don't understand and that inhibits their ability to communicate.

Via touch and the aroma of essential oils, dementia sufferers can be comforted, reassured and sense the love and care of those in whom the quality of their life rests.

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