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23 Activities for Seniors Who Are Social Distancing

Claire Samuels
By Claire SamuelsMay 2, 2020

Activity directors at senior living communities are known for thinking of fun outings, games, and exercise programs for aging loved ones. With communal activities off the table, they’ve had to get creative and find new methods to keep residents safe and connected during social distancing. You can adapt these expert ideas as inspiration to keep your loved one active at home, too!

Senior activities ideas from assisted living experts

Here are some unique ways assisted living communities are keeping seniors entertained:

  1. Friendly competition
    Residents at Riverstone Retirement Resort in Kansas City, Missouri, are staying engaged through friendly competition, says activities director Mary Pat Taylor. Some of her creative ideas include remote control cars for residents to race down communal hallways (they can cheer for favorites from their own rooms!) and a virtual game of The Price is Right.

TIP: Classic game shows are a fun way to connect with senior loved ones at home. Watch reruns online and try to call out answers before the contestants do, or find a virtual archive of Price is Right games for seniors here.

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  1. Personalized activity baskets
    Many communities throughout the country are creating personalized baskets with materials for activities focused on personalized themes residents enjoy, like exercise, animals, and music.

TIP: This is a great concept to copy for the seniors in your life. The personalization will make your loved one feel special, and you can customize based on their abilities. Consider making a basket for your art-loving mom with some new pens, beautiful postcards, or a puzzle or coffee table book from her favorite painter.

  1. Armchair travel 
    Many communities are using technology to take “virtual trips” to foreign countries like Italy and Spain. The residents of Brookdale 119 in Overland Park, Kansas, got to “fly away” for the evening. Staff, dressed as flight attendants, performed a fun safety demonstration and pushed a snack cart down the hallway for a unique, social-distance-friendly happy hour.
  2. Movie nights 
    New Town senior apartments in Baltimore, Maryland, had the clever idea to keep their Wednesday night movies communal by passing out popcorn and having residents with Netflix watch the same film from the comfort of their own apartments.

TIP: Talking about movies is a great way to connect. See if your loved one wants to set up a time to watch the same thing as their friends, whether it’s on a streaming service or cable.

  1. Hallway events 
    “We’re engaging the staff members to use their creativity,” says Cece Credille, senior vice president for quality services at Enlivant, a Chicago-based senior living company. “They’re playing Wheel of Fortune or Family Feud and having exercise time in the hall with people sitting in their doorways. Our staff also stroll the hallway with music and action to entertain the residents.”
  2. Crafts 
    Many senior living communities are stocking up on materials for popular crafts like knitting and crochet, two great ways to stay busy while listening to the radio or watching TV. Even dementia patients can respond well to supplies like soft yarn that provide sensory stimulation.

TIP: If you’re up for learning something new, ask your loved one to help teach you a craft they enjoy.

  1. Concerts
    A social distancing concert sounds unlikely, but it’s exactly what happened at Sunrise Senior Living in Dublin, Ohio. Local couple Gary and Linda Sclafani lifted resident spirits by playing popular songs for seniors with open windows.
  2. Exercise 
    Active seniors may be going stir crazy right now! Some assisted living communities, like Enlivant, are doing hallway exercise programs. Others are encouraging stretching or even creating set times for a few residents to go outside while maintaining social distancing protocols.
  3. Back to Basics 
    “I’ve noticed that bingo has been a common request,” says Raina Akers of Orlando, Florida. “The cards are given to residents in their rooms, then the numbers get called. Everyone down the hall can hear the ‘Bingo!’”

TIP: Routine, traditional activities can be comforting to seniors during this time of rapid change. Keep this in mind when making plans with your loved one at home as well. 

  1. Letters 
    Most seniors remember a time when snail mail was their main form of communication. Some assisted living communities are starting pen pal programs to link aging adults with children who are currently homeschooling. It’s a chance for kids to work on their writing skills — and for seniors to tell their stories.

Family activities for elderly loved ones

Many senior centers are closed, leaving family caregivers more time at home with their loved ones. Here are some activities you can do as a family to stay entertained during social isolation:

  1. Sort through keepsakes 
    Do you have keepsake boxes in your garage or attic that haven’t been opened in years? Dust off old yearbooks and family photos to reminisce together. Laugh about old-fashioned trends, and share stories about your childhoods.
  2. Take a virtual trip down memory lane 
    Google Earth is an amazing way to “travel” during times of social distancing. Try looking up your loved one’s childhood home or the hotel where they spent their honeymoon. If they have old pictures, compare and contrast with the new ones you find. Explore the snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas or the colorful coral reefs of the Caribbean.
  3. Learn about your family history
    Companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe offer at-home testing kits that can trace your genetics back dozens of generations. These results can be a great starting point for conversations about family history. Were the results what you expected?
  4. Spring clean 
    A bright and airy space will make social isolation a little less dreary. If you’ve been meaning to clear out clutter or rearrange rooms, this is a great opportunity to get started. Remember to be careful — save the heavy lifting for when you have help.
  5. Put your green thumbs to work 
    Being outside in nature decreases stress and fosters well-being. Gardening is beneficial to seniors, even if you only have space for a few flower pots. Many hardware stores are still offering curbside delivery, and some community gardens are sending out seeds.
  6. Bake 
    If you’ve spent any time online recently, you know homemade banana bread and sourdough are all the rage. Time-consuming cooking projects aren’t just for millennials to post on social media, though. Does your family have a famous birthday cake recipe or a classic shortbread passed down for generations? You don’t need a special occasion to indulge your sweet tooth these days, and individual cupcakes and cookies freeze well. Just don’t give the grandkids too much sugar!

Solo activities for seniors during social isolation

If your loved one is isolating in their own home, or if you’re looking for activities to entertain them while you work, here are some unique ways for seniors to spend time alone:

  1. Volunteer
    If your loved one enjoys giving back to the community, check out this list of charitable organizations that have set up ways to volunteer from home. One option is StoriiTime, which connects isolated seniors with children learning to read.
  2. Play
    Brain games for seniors can reduce the likelihood of dementia and improve cognitive health. If your mom is missing her regular bridge nights, virtual activities are a great way to stay mentally stimulated and learn new skills. AARP and Adobe partnered for this online collection of senior-friendly games, puzzles, and memory-boosters.
  3. Experience culture
    Has your loved one ever wanted to visit Paris? Send them on a virtual tour of the Louvre Museum. If they’re an opera lover, suggest a free live concert from the Metropolitan Opera.
  4. Focus on mental health
    With the coronavirus dominating news sources and everyday conversation, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. A Place for Mom created this list of the best mental health apps to try in 2020.
  5. Create
    If your loved one is a painter, knitter, or writer, encourage these creative activities! It can be difficult to find motivation during these stressful times, but a finished product creates a sense of accomplishment. Some activities for senior citizens can even be used to support your local community, like knitted hats for babies or inspirational poetry to brighten someone’s day.
  6. Read
    It seems obvious, but reading is a great way to improve brain health. If your loved one doesn’t have the eyesight or attention span to read traditional books, consider interesting podcasts or books on tape. If you have similar interests, a mini family book club is a fun way to bond.
  7. Learn something new
    Open Culture offers hundreds of free online courses. Whether your loved one wants to learn about economics, the Italian renaissance, or computer science, there’s an option available online.

Have you and your loved one done any of these activities? What are some fun ways you’ve helped your senior relative stay active and engaged during social distancing?

Let us know in the comments!

Claire Samuels
Author
Claire Samuels

Claire Samuels is a content writer at A Place for Mom. She worked with senior living communities throughout the Midwest before pivoting to writing. She’s passionate about sharing ways of living well at any age.

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