Look online for “activities for older adults” and you’ll probably find a mixture of games, crafts, memory-stimulating puzzles, and of course, the requisite bingo. What you won’t find, unless you really search much deeper, are the purposeful, philanthropic activities that bring meaning to our lives. However, if you ask older individuals what they would most wish to do, the majority of them won’t mention art projects, games, or bingo. What they want most of all is to feel useful.
The University of Minnesota shares facts on how the most vulnerable times in our lives are the initial year of life, and the first year following retirement. The loss of the sense of purpose discovered in a rewarding career can result in extensive health concerns – and even an earlier mortality rate, if that sense of meaning is not redefined in some way to let the older person experience an ongoing sense of being needed.
One powerful program, the Baltimore Experience Corps, matches retirees with young children in schools that are understaffed, providing them with the invaluable opportunity to mentor, help with reading skills, and serve as a welcoming and nonjudgmental friend to the children. And they are certainly helping themselves in the process also. As Michelle Carlson, Ph.D., of the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health points out, “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.”
When assisting older individuals who have Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, it could take a bit more creativity to discover engaging activities that increase their sense of purpose and meaning. Providing home care services in Salt Lake City and the surrounding area, Harmony Home Health & Hospice offers the tips below to help get you started:
- Research local and nationwide 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 individuals or those with cognitive difficulties 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.
- Animal rescue shelters and humane societies often need donated towels and blankets that can be washed and folded at home; or aging adults and family members may be able to make homemade pet treats together, or possibly even take dogs for walks together or snuggle kittens.
- Put together care packages for the homeless or veterans with travel-sized toiletries, snacks, etc.
- Work on coloring pages or other simple crafts together, letting the senior know they will be provided to a local domestic crisis facility to brighten the day for women and children.
Make sure the older adult has opportunities to assist with as many projects 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 appreciated.
At Harmony Home Health & Hospice, our Salt Lake City in home care services go beyond merely providing care in the home; our caregivers are committed to helping seniors live lives full of meaning and purpose. For more recommendations on helping older adults maintain the highest quality of life, reach out to us any time at 1-877-I-NEED-CARE (1-877-463-3322). To learn about all of the communities where we provide in home health care and hospice services, please visit our Service Area page.