Search online for the words “activities for seniors” and you’ll probably find an assortment of games, crafts, memory-stimulating puzzles, and of course, the requisite bingo. What you will not find, unless you search much longer, are the purposeful, philanthropic activities that bring purpose to our lives. And yet, if you ask older adults what they would most like to do, the majority of them will not mention art projects, games, or bingo. What they want most of all is to feel useful.
The University of Minnesota shares details on how the most vulnerable times in our lives are the initial year of life, and the initial year after retirement. Losing a sense of usefulness that comes from a fulfilling career can lead to significant health concerns – and even an earlier mortality rate, if that sense of meaning is not redefined in some way to empower the older person to experience an ongoing sense of being needed.
One extremely powerful program, the Baltimore Experience Corps, pairs older individuals with young children in schools that are understaffed, furnishing them with the invaluable opportunity to mentor, offer help with reading abilities, and serve as a welcoming and nonjudgmental friend to the children. And they are certainly helping themselves in the process too. As Michelle Carlson, Ph.D., of the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shares, “By helping others, participants are helping themselves in ways beyond just feeding their souls. They are helping their brains. The brain shrinks as part of aging, but with this program we appear to have stopped that shrinkage and are reversing part of the aging process.”
For someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, it could take a bit of innovation to determine enriching activities for older adults that increase their sense of purpose and meaning. Providing professional Mesa respite care, as well as in the surrounding areas of Mesa, Endeavor In-Home Care offers the following tips to help get you started:
- Research local and national agencies that assist those in need – the homeless, veterans, animals, women and children in impoverishment or crisis, etc. Find out if these agencies have any volunteer positions that older adults or those with cognitive impairment could provide help with, such as:
- Organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving have ribbon campaigns that involve folding, cutting, and stapling lengths of ribbon to cards for distribution.
- Pet rescue shelters and humane societies often need donated towels and blankets that need to be washed and folded up at home; or older individuals and family members could prepare homemade pet treats together, or possibly even take dogs for walks together or snuggle with the kittens.
- Create care packages for veterans or the homeless with travel-sized toiletries, snacks, etc.
- Work on coloring pages or other easy crafts together, letting the older person know they will be shared with a local domestic crisis center to brighten the day for women and children.
Be sure the older person has opportunities to assist with as many tasks as possible around the house: sorting and folding laundry, snapping beans, setting the table – letting the person know how much his or her help is required and valued.
At Endeavor In-Home Care, our Mesa respite care services, also available in the surrounding areas, go beyond simply providing care in the home; our caregivers are committed to helping seniors live lives full of meaning and purpose. For more suggestions on helping seniors maintain the highest quality of life, contact us any time at 480-498-2324.