“If my mother moves to an assisted living community, she will be safe, well-fed and cared for; but those facts alone don’t mean she will be happy.” These are normal thoughts for people who are considering senior communities for a loved one. After all, even zoo animals are safe, well fed, and cared for. People require more.
At a senior community, people have the same basic needs as at any age—the need to laugh and have fun, to sing and dance, to learn and explore, to play and compete, to get outside and enjoy creation. In short: to live life to its fullest. While our abilities, even our faculties, may diminish with age, our need to enjoy the best of what it means to be human remains. That’s why the importance of activities at senior living communities—particularly assisted living and independent living—cannot be exaggerated.
But if asked to picture activities at a senior community, you might envision a “riveting” game of bingo, or a “suspense-filled” balloon volleyball match. Ten or twenty years ago this might have been a fair assessment. While there’s nothing wrong with these old favorites, today’s senior communities offer residents much more. Communities, recognizing residents’ tastes and abilities vary, try to offer something for everyone and allow residents to choose from a wide array of enriching and sometimes unconventional activities.
A Place for Mom spoke with a few of our partner communities to learn more about the activities their residents enjoy. We collected small sampling of activities that go beyond bingo:
Senior communities frequently host field trips to museums, sports games, concerts, and shows. Last month during a sports themed week, residents at Meadow Lark Estates in Kansas not only toured the University of Kansas Football Stadium; they were also treated to a “Football 101”course from a University of Kansas football coach, teaching them the nuances of the game to will help them more fully appreciate the sport as spectators.
An old Zimbabwean proverb begins “If you can walk, you can dance.” This spirit of this proverb is admirable, but my wheel chaired friend reminds me that even he can dance. Dancing remains ever popular at senior communities-it’s a daily event for most. Assisted living residents enjoy line dancing, ballroom dancing, swing dancing and more. Dancing is not only fun, but also keeps residents fit. Not to mention, it’s an excellent social opportunity.
The astute Zimbabwean proverb mentioned above that begins, “If you can walk, you can dance” concludes, “If you can talk, you can sing.” It reminds us that there’s no such thing as bad singing if it comes from the heart. Singing, like dancing, is great for the soul. Many senior communities stage their own “American Idol” type competitions, but even old fashioned karaoke is a blast. Activities director at Peaks at Santa Rita in Green Valley, Arizona says that her residents, “love karaoke.”
Just because you can’t hike 10 miles anymore doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the outdoors. Even if strenuous recreation is out of the question, getting outdoors is essential spiritual nourishment for many people. People of all ages need opportunities to retreat from the hustle and bustle, breathe fresh clean air, immerse themselves in nature—smell a wild flower, walk among the trees, or look up at a mountain top. Senior communities recognize this, and offer frequent outdoor excursions.. For example, residents at the Peaks at Santa Rita enjoy weekly picnics at Lake Patagonia, Madera Canyon, and Mount Lemmon. Even a short outing to a lush city park, Japanese gardens or an arboretum can be a delight.
For the uninitiated, the Wii is a video game system made by Nintendo that allows you to interact with the game by moving your body rather than pressing buttons or manipulating a joystick. It may sound tricky, but senior community residents will tell you otherwise. Residents have found Wii easy to use, fun and downright addictive. Want to go Wii bowling? Hold the controller (about the size of a TV remote) and go through the classic motions of bowling. Enjoy all the fun of bowling without the fear of throwing your back or dropping a 16 pound ball on your toes. Games like Wii tennis and baseball are also easy, fun, and safe competitive outlets for seniors for whom the real thing would be impractical or unsafe. Similar devices like the Xbox Connect (which has no controller at all) are also popular at senior communities across the country.
Classes and Workshops
Learning is a joy and lifelong learning opportunities are a crucial ingredient in any great senior activities-program. MacKenzie Place in Fort Collins, Colorado offers sign language and painting classes to name a few. Foreign language classes are also a hit at many senior communities. Computer classes are also common, allowing residents to stay in touch with distant loved ones and keep up on world affairs. For the literary, book clubs are a common sight at many senior communities. Similarly, writing workshops encourage seniors to tell their stories or simply make one up. Guest lectures by visiting professionals and academics are also commonplace, allowing residents to never stop expanding their horizons.
Fitness at senior communities today involves a lot more than “the morning stretch”. Tai Chi and Yoga are now some of the most popular gentle senior fitness classes across the country. Residents at MacKenzie Place even enjoy Zumba. Today’s senior communities strive to make fitness fun (and dignified) in order to encourage residents to view exercise as a pleasure rather than a chore.
Entertainment is a mainstay of most senior communities. If a Frank Sinatra impersonator isn’t up your alley, try a Luau with Hawaiian dancers and a fire thrower, another event offered at the Peaks at Santa Rita. Other live entertainment frequently offered by senior communities includes standup comedy, opera, bands, drama groups, and visiting choirs. If song and dance isn’t your thing, McKenzie Place even recently hosted a pedigree dog show for their residents.
Often events are holiday themed, but no special occasion is needed. MacKenzie Place arranged a Senior Olympics for their residents to correspond with the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. They also recently held a carnival for residents with dunk tanks, cottony candy and a “bouncy castle.” (Residents vetoed the teacup ride). Edgewood Point in Beaverton Oregon held a classic car show for their residents last month.
There’s an infinite variety in activities at the thousands of fine senior communities in A Place for Mom’s network. The activities we highlight here are just a small sampling, but clearly show that senior communities have moved “beyond bingo.”
Interested in finding out what’s offered near you? Contact a Senior Living Advisor who can provide you with local senior community activity calendars. If you or a loved one are residents (or soon-to-be residents) at a senior community that doesn’t offer an activity you’d like to see, just talk to the community’s activities director (also sometimes known as a “life enrichment coordinator”). Their goal is to keep residents active, happy and involved.
Are you a resident or staff member a senior community? Tell us about popular activities at your community. Is anything interesting or original offered? What new activities should senior communities adopt? We welcome your comments below.