What are some fun activities for older adults confined to hospitals?

A fellow caregiver asked...

I volunteer at a convalescent hospital. They don't have a large budget and I feel that the very few activities for seniors they have are belittling and mundane. The activities for seniors include a slow paced sort of volleyball (basically playing catch) and "sittercise" where they do various arm movements, ie: swimming, boxing, and driving motions. This works for certain patients, but others are bored by it. I think they could all use/enjoy a little variety in their routine, regardless of cognitive and physical states (within reason of course). I need help thinking of low to no-cost activities for seniors to make life more enjoyable.

Expert Answer

Pat O'Dea-Evans, MS, RN, LCPC is a Geriatric Care Manager.

First look at the calendar for the convalescent hospital. How much time do you have to work with the seniors, and how long are the seniors in this setting? Is this "home" or short term rehabilitation? Once you've answered these questions, here are some suggestions:

  • One new craze in long-term care settings is the Wii. This popular electronic game center for kids is a winner with seniors, too. In addition to providing brain challenges, it provides opportunities for physical activity as well. A large flat screen TV makes it even more fun since it is easier to see. This is a one time expense that can be used over and over. If the hospital’s recreation budget can't cover it, try asking churches or local civic organizations to help raise money or donate used goods. Wii bowling, tennis, boxing, golf and a game called Brain Age offer physical and cognitive exercise.
  • Map out a walking path in the building with picture postcards from places in the world along the way. Set a goal for the group to walk/wheelchair to "New York" or "New Orleans." Put together a goal sheet and add up how far each walker has traveled until you get there. When you make your goal, decorate and celebrate with a theme party.
  • Even slow-paced volleyball can be spiced up with a super-sized beach ball, saying the person's name before you hit it to them, or playing dance music from the residents' era, such as swing.
  • Do good for others. Is there a project residents could do to help the community? One senior residence in our area makes stuffed bears for kids in the pediatric ward; another makes baby hats for newborns to wear home from the hospital; yet another stuffs envelopes for United Way.
  • For more ideas, check out the library for books on games, or tour some other programs in your area. What do they do to keep things interesting for their residents? Recreation Therapy is also a great resource for ideas as well.

Involve the seniors every step of the way, from selecting the activity to planning an executing it, and you're all bound to have fun.