How to Continue the Social Activity of Seniors

Many seniors want to remain in their homes - and should. But their social networks may have diminished, leaving them feeling lonely and somewhat isolated. This is either because friends are ill or deceased or the seniors' physical and time limitations prohibit a lot of opportunities to socialize.

Holidays can be both Joyous and Lonely

How can you help? One thing is to think about what your senior friends or family members like to do, or what they enjoyed doing when more active.

If observant, make sure that they can worship and celebrate in some way as they did before. If not observant, do they still enjoy special Christmas trees, Menorahs, or window displays in their community? Find a way to get them there again. Make sure that someone besides an aide is with them on the holiday, preferably a friend or family member. If they like children, try to get them to join family, friends, or even neighbors where youth are included.

Holidays, however, are a once or twice a year occurrence. The need for social interaction is, in most cases, on-going. Here are a few more ideas that will make the lives of the seniors in your life more enjoyable and add normalcy to their lives.

Did they enjoy cooking? Seek out someone, a family member, friend, neighbor, or a talented aide who will assist in the kitchen, or take instruction on meal preparation. If seniors are physically up to it, consider taking them to classes such as those given at culinary institutes and adult education facilities.

Are their apartments full of their own original art work? Dig out old pastels or watercolors and encourage them to begin sketching. Or have an art therapist work with them.

Did they enjoy museums? Try to make those trips happen again. If there are visual problems, try to find museums that are particularly interactive.

Were they subscribers to the theater, opera, orchestra, or dance companies? Try to make arrangements for up-front seating, and in the case of disabilities, make preparation for walkers and wheel chairs. Theater companies are, for the most part, extremely sensitive to the needs of an older audience.

Did they enjoy eating out with friends? Are they in wheelchairs? See if some friends are available and locate a restaurant that is wheelchair accessible and quiet (the better for conversation). If there are no friends, they and their aides can still make a weekly event of a lovely lunch out.There are guides to help find wheelchair accessible restaurants.

Did they have a dog? What kind? Make sure their aides share the love of dogs so they both can go to dog runs or parks to watch the dogs play. Also, have a dog visit, preferably the breed they like.

Were they involved in creating their co-op's rooftop garden? Make it a goal, an incentive, to walk up the flight of stairs for a rooftop picnic.

Did they love movies, but their eyesight is diminished? Try out mid-day visits to movie theaters when the theater is relatively empty, and sit down front. Get a large, flat-screen TV and cable access to classic movies that will spark their memory and get them talking about favorite actors and actresses. Not enough options on cable? Rent DVDs or borrow from the library.

Do they like being involved in selecting groceries, but are in a wheelchair? Go on frequent trips to the grocery store and buy amounts that are manageable to carry home with the wheelchair - let them pick out their own food.

Did they go to the gym regularly, but now are disoriented and cannot navigate the facility? Have the aide accompany them and make arrangements with the gym to allow the aide to help them around the facility.

Did they volunteer at a soup kitchen, feeding homeless people? Find out if there is a way to continue to contribute time, perhaps along with the aide. Ask what they used to do there and what they liked; see if they can do that activity again.

In the process of organizing papers, have you found photos waiting to be put in albums? This is an opportunity to reminisce and learn from our elders about family history and famous people and events of decades past. Even if you need to hire a companion to work on this, it can be a chance to get seniors engaged again.

Do they love to talk about the past? Make a list of questions to help gently guide the conversation, and then record or videotape it.There are also organizations which collect oral history that can help with this project.

Is there a piano that indicates interest in music? Get it repaired and tuned and find someone to sit and play with them. Pull out old records, tapes, or CDs.Talk about memories associated with the music - what era does it evoke?

Is the computer a part of their life, but getting harder to navigate? Find a companion (aide, grandchild, neighbor, or someone for hire) who can help write memoirs, deal with e-mails, post photos, use Skype to communicate with distant family members. If eyesight is poor, get a larger monitor and set the font to a bigger size.

While there may not be an instantaneous success with any one project, gently presenting one idea or another may create a spark of interest and, with enthusiasm from those important to the senior, a whole new desire to participate in life may unfold. It is exciting when this happens and it is a fun challenge to find just the right activity.

December 2009 - FEATURE
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