When I first began working as the administrator at Elk Run, I started thinking more about what activities would be engaging and safe for the people we serve. I wondered whether there are certain kinds of activities that are better for residents than others.
I decided to ask Elk Run Director of Therapeutic Activities Ellen Hussey, and was glad I did. Ellen has two goals: making activities enjoyable and making sure they are safe. She is not concerned with people’s ages when they participate in activities. The real key to success when offering activity choices is variety, ranging from arts and crafts or current events discussions to physical exercise or Tai Chi.
In fact, “there are studies on Tai Chi and its connection to fall prevention,” Ellen says. “So many are helped by Tai Chi to achieve better balance.” Because Ellen is certified as a Tai Chi instructor, she is trained to keep participants safe. “If we can build confidence by helping residents become more flexible and stronger, we can give residents a full mind-body experience that they can enjoy,” Ellen adds.
What Ellen looks for when planning activities is what will add the most meaning, purpose and fun to residents’ lives. She concentrates on residents’ interests to devise activities that boost self esteem and joy. That means learning about each residents’ story: hobbies, religious beliefs and histories. Ideally, Ellen believes activities should offer the following possibilities:
- Be memorable, entertaining and inspiring
- Increase life satisfaction
- Help maintain current skills
- Be culturally sensitive
Activities at Elk Run include several popular favorites:
- Cardio drumming uses chairs with metal armrests and hampers turned upside down; making rhythmic sounds gives participants the chance to enjoy physical activity and art at the same time—without overtaxing or straining.
- Standing or seated Tai Chi exercises offer participants the ability to strengthen muscles and improve balance as well as confidence.
- Exercise class (seated or standing) is another way to increase strength and balance with simple movements that are tailored specifically to older bodies.
- Music enables people to connect more easily with their memories and emotions. Concerts, sing-alongs and choirs are just a few possible ways to integrate music into everyday life.
- Scrapbooking helps residents share their life stories in creative ways while preserving memories.
- Book clubs generate fascinating discussions, not only about books but life experiences. Participants can also invite local authors to community events, allowing readers to meet authors and learn more about the writing process.
- Arts and crafts offer opportunities for older adults to use their imaginative powers.Activities can include painting watercolors or acrylics, drawing and sketches (using pencils, markers, chalk or crayons), knitting, or participating in any crafting activity that nurtures creativity.
- Worship services bring people together and provide spiritual support and community. Services also let people know they are not alone in their journeys.
- Gardening makes exercising fun while allowing older adults to enjoy the outdoors. For those who are not physically agile, watering, planting seeds or raking can be easier options. Pots can be used instead of planting in flower beds.
As the pandemic subsides, more group activities will be available in the future:
- Knitting or crochet clubs bring older adults together to socialize while making gifts for family members and others. Knitting and crocheting also help older adults celebrate their accomplishments in tangible ways.
- Cooking classes or demonstrations with a professional chef bring new foods and taste sensations to participants.
- Volunteering offers older adults the opportunity to find meaning and purpose in their lives by helping others. Volunteers might help a child to read, serve food to the homeless or provide holiday cheer by singing in a choir. Elk Run residents have found much satisfaction in volunteering.
Individual activities can also lift spirits and bring joy. Elk Run offers the following:
- Beauty salon time
- One-to-one visits
In addition, Elk Run residents can enjoy a variety of games, including cards, an old-time radio hour and holiday celebrations. “The point is to have a good balance of activities on any given day,” says Ellen. She also believes it’s important to help those we serve—even when recovering from illnesses—to stay connected to their passions.
“We always want to figure out how someone can do something,” Ellen points out.
I agree. Seeing all the activities at Elk Run is nothing short of inspiring, and has taught me there is no reason to limit the number or type of activities we offer. I’ve come to realize that the residents are expanding my definition of what it means to be active. I can’t wait to see what kinds of activities they’ll be doing in 2022.