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The Importance of Nursing Home Activities

Many people think of a nursing home as an ugly, soulless place where residents either lie in bed or sit endlessly in a rocking chair, waiting to see out their days until the inevitable happens. The reality – at least in a good nursing home – is far from that. Many people enter a nursing facility when they still have a lot of life left in them and look forward to years of fun and companionship, with daily activities to keep both their bodies and minds active.

In fact, studies have shown that regular stimulating activities help cut depression in nursing home residents in half, preventing dementia and keeping their spirits as well as their bodies alive. Activities are vital to maintaining the mental and physical well-being of residents, and even staff and visitors visiting family and friends can participate – willingly – in the activities a good nursing home provides.

If you are looking to find a nursing home for a loved one who is still able to love life, it is important to find out what kinds of activities are offered – and how often they are available. In fact, nursing homes that receive Medicare or Medicaid patients must have a designated operations manager in order to receive appropriate funding. But how well they do their job is something you’ll have to judge for yourself…

“I think the residents I talk to who tell me they have nothing to do but sleep, eat and read the paper are looking for a reason to get up every morning,” writes Vicki30CNA on the website “They don’t look forward to the next day as they all run around together. And our less able residents have little to no stimulation other than the toilet and shower. A few bibs every AM and they see it as their ‘job’ but this their work takes half an hour. Then what, they tell me. I hate to see the days of their last years so empty and without purpose.”

If you want to prevent this from happening to someone you love, read on. Any nursing home should offer a wide variety of activities, so make sure this is the case when considering a nursing home. Some residents may enjoy going out to lunch several times a week, shopping, or visiting the local art gallery or movie theater. Others will prefer on-site activities that stimulate their heart and mind.

It might be a good idea to talk to the nursing home’s activities director to see what’s available. Here are just a handful of activities that a good nursing home should be happy to provide…

Self-initiated activities

Great as they require little preparation and can be programmed by the residents themselves. They include:

Gardening. Depending on the range of mobility and interest of the residents, gardening can be as rigorous or gentle as they want it to be. If there is an actual garden that is fantastic, if not, then hanging baskets, small herb pots and indoor collections of cacti or orchids can keep the interest.

Arts and crafts. Even older residents enjoy making something – especially when they feel it has a good purpose. Knitting blankets, making baby clothes, or entering art or photography contests can keep people busy and help them contribute to society at the same time.

Games. You might think bingo is the most popular nursing home game – and you’d be right. But there’s more to competitive games than just bingo. How about bridge, mahjong, canasta or chess – the sky’s the limit. One-on-one games are great for encouraging closer relationships between residents, and group games are also good for cultivating a sense of community.

Activities based on music. Don’t limit the fun to singing along – you might even have professional musicians among the residents, or you might discover some hidden talents.

Volunteer-led activities

Manicure, Bible study, salon day – all you need is a volunteer with skills – and the time to make a difference in someone’s life.

School groups. It may sound cliché, but young people have a lot to learn from their elders. This might take the form of Grandma teaching little Albertine to knit, or visiting a school once a week and reading to the little ones. Many schools, in fact, encourage people from abroad – assuming they’ve been vetted by the police – to help kids who need a little extra with one-on-one reading or maths exercises.

Local community groups. People who have a special talent often enjoy visiting nursing homes on a regular basis and sharing their skills. This could be giving residents massages or reflexology sessions, teaching them a special aspect about gardening or talking about growing orchids.

Scout groups. Often, scout troops visit nursing homes – gathering together to do something fun, like bake chocolate chip cookies or build a birdhouse. The two groups can learn from each other and leverage each other’s skills and talents.

Local charities. People from charities often give of their time to seniors, whether that means organizing outings or a pet therapy day when the local vet or animal shelter staff bring animals in for a visit.

Activities led by the Nursing Home

Thematic events, such as birthdays or religious holidays. Some creative residents meet with staff to plan events such as Hawaiian nights, Chinese New Year celebrations, or Halloween or Thanksgiving celebrations. Friends and family can be invited to join – perhaps even residents of neighboring nursing homes.

Outdoor activities such as barbecues, picnics or a walk to a park or garden centre. In some cases volunteers may be called upon to assist residents with mobility issues.

A bit of culture. Going to the theater, opera, museum or cinema can take some planning, but it’s worth it. Again, volunteer helpers and guides may be needed.

Alternative therapies. Everyone can benefit – as long as they are not too invasive. Massage, yoga or Tai Chi can help residents have fun, get fit and relax.

Keeping people as happy and healthy as possible for as long as possible. both physically and mentally, should be the goal of every nursing home. Activities should be varied and interesting, adapted to the different abilities, needs and interests of the residents. They should be not only fun but rewarding, enabling residents to form new relationships, develop new skills and maintain their fitness levels.

“We have a ‘senior dance’ in May where local Marines accompany our residents (wheelchairs and all) for dancing and food,” writes CoachCathy on “We have dresses and suits donated by local thrift stores . Local hairdressers come and do hair and nails. Everyone has a blast.

“And we had a Winter Wonderland theme last December—we made snowmen out of diaper boxes painted white—and we had a snowman decorating contest. The residents had an indoor snowball fight (with cotton candy). It was so much fun!”

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