What are fun, quality-of-life activities I can do with my loved ones? Why is joy a critical survival skill for caregivers?
By Amy Goyer
Part of our role as caregivers is to ensure that our loved ones have the highest possible quality of life. Experiencing joy, fun, and happiness are integral to overall well-being for both family caregivers and those we care for. Interacting with others is critical because isolation is extremely bad for both our physical and mental health — in fact, it’s as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes per day and it’s worse than obesity. Here are some ways to keep your loved ones interacting and engaged in life.
Music is an excellent caregiving tool. Play your loved ones’ favorite music on a stereo or smart speaker, watch movie musicals together, attend a professional concert, watch a grandchild’s performance, or sing while you exercise, walk, or wait. Did your loved ones play instruments? Get them out or ask them to tell you stories about how they learned to play. Use various types of music to motivate, calm/soothe, energize, or comfort. You might think about engaging a board-certified music therapist who is trained to use music as a tool to achieve non-musical therapeutic goals like socialization, physical activity, and more.
Art can be a creative outlet, regardless of skill level. Painting, making a crazy quilt, drawing, making a collage, woodworking, making crafts, scrapbooking, and so many other forms of art can be adapted and made accessible according to your loved ones’ current abilities. These activities may be done in groups or alone, and it’s always fun to share the results with family and friends. Art therapists are like music therapists; they use art activities to achieve therapeutic goals.
Games can be adapted to fit your loved ones’ abilities. In addition to being fun, some games promote physical activity (try Cornhole, batting a balloon around, blowing bubbles, handling dominoes, or reaching for cards). Games can also provide cognitive stimulation.
Social occasions are important at any age, and it helps to actively plan for them. They may be limited or different depending on our loved ones’ current health conditions, abilities, and personalities. But even scaled-back social occasions are critical. Social occasions can be a wide variety of things: a one-to-one coffee break, lunch with a couple of friends, a family gathering, a video connection to watch a grandchild’s graduation, a faith community service (attended in-person or remotely), a program at the senior center, a veteran’s group meeting, or even a short chat with the postman. If you’re caregiving for those living with dementia, find out if there is a “memory café” in your area where you can bring them to socialize with others experiencing the same things. Adult day care centers can also provide opportunities for socialization.
Reading can be a great way to maintain cognitive skills, learn about what’s happening in the world, and even be an “armchair traveler.” Reading can be enhanced by creating a book club with your loved ones and discussing a book you both read. Build on the setting of the book by discussing the city/state/country where it takes place, eating food from that area, and watching movies about that area. This can even be done with long-distance family using video chat or the telephone. Libraries and bookstores may be fun and familiar places to visit. If it’s difficult for your loved ones to read, try recorded books. If that won’t work either, then try reading to them. Favorite poems or books from their childhood can create connections, even for those who are living with dementia.
Technology is a gift to this generation of family caregivers. We have so many more options thanks to mobile phones, video chat options, smart speakers, streaming channels, and DVRs. Get creative, using these tools to help loved ones stay connected with friends and family. If they aren’t as comfortable with technology, try simplified versions geared for those who aren’t as “tech-savvy.” You can have a daily visit, read a grandchild a bedtime story, watch a movie, or even attend a wedding – all from a distance!
Intergenerational Connections are especially beneficial for older adults. Being age-segregated is not a natural state for human beings. We need people of all ages around us. Make sure your loved ones have opportunities to connect with both the elder and the younger generations in their families and their neighborhoods on a regular basis. Some schools, senior centers, older adult communities, and faith communities have intergenerational programs specifically designed to build relationships.
Animals can bring both comfort and joy, two necessities for optimal quality of life. If your loved ones don’t have pets, bring yours to visit. Dog walking, throwing a ball for a pet, or using a cat toy can be a great way to promote physical activity. Animals can be a part of your loved ones’ lives by seeing a neighbor’s pet, having a pet therapist bring animals to visit, or visiting the humane society. Even watching from a window as the squirrels cavort around the yard can be joyful entertainment. (Obviously, use discretion if your loved ones are afraid of or allergic to animals.)
- Activities (The Alzheimer’s Association)
- Art Therapist Locator (American Art Therapy Association)
- engAGED (The National Resource Center for Engaging Older Adults)
- How Family Caregivers Can Keep Loved Ones Active at Home (AARP)
- How to Find a Music Therapist (American Music Therapy Association)
- Memory Café Directory
- National Center for Creative Aging: Creative Caregiving Guide (Opening Minds Through Art)
- Stay Connected Through Technology (The National Resource Center for Engaging Older Adults)
- 7 Ways to Conquer Loneliness Without Technology (AARP)
- 9 Fun Family Activities That Span Generations (AARP)
Amy Goyer is a nationally known caregiving expert and author of Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving. A passionate champion for caregivers, she has also been one her entire adult life, caring for her grandparents, parents, sister, and others. Connect with Amy on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.