Many seniors spend much of their time indoors at home, where they’re comfortable, safe and cared for—often because of bone-chilling cold or steaming hot weather, COVID precautions, mobility issues, or a lack of transportation. Still, whatever the reason, older adults at home often need engaging and interesting activities to keep their minds and bodies working. (After all, there’s only so much TV a person can watch.)
Caregivers should try a variety of things to find what their older adult enjoys, and it’s a good idea to have a few favorites on a rotating basis. Ask your senior what they enjoyed doing when they were young—for example, they may have loved coloring books and crayons or listening to their favorite music on the radio. Those positive memories can spark interest in similar activities now that they’re older.
Below are some ideas for activities to keep your senior interested and motivated to get up and going every day.
Play card games
Card games are perfect for those with short attention spans. You can play a few hands of gin rummy or Go Fish, or a round of Uno for some quick and easy fun that also requires critical thinking and math skills. To make it more interesting, keep a running tab of who’s winning, and maybe add some small wagers to up the competition.
Read plays aloud
If your senior enjoys drama and theater, get a couple of copies of a play for you to read aloud together. You can each take on a few roles and have fun acting out the scenes. If there are others in the home, they can also take on roles. Before you begin, see if you can find a YouTube video of the play so you can watch it acted out by professionals.
As Ben Brantley, former theater critic for The New York Times, wrote in an article in 2020, “…reading plays aloud is a tradition I’d love to revive—and one I would highly recommend to those looking for ways to find magic in empty hours.”
Write a memoir
Writing a memoir doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment or a 500-page book. You can help your loved one write about a special day in their life, a friend or relative who has had a significant influence, or a place they have loved visiting. If they enjoy this activity, you can do it repeatedly for different topics. This is also a nice legacy to create for younger family members.
Create a family tree
Researching family history is a fascinating and ongoing project many seniors would enjoy but may not know how to begin. Ancestry.com is the best way to get started with creating a family tree and learning about relatives, including some your older adult may not know. Combine this project with going through family photos, and there will be hours and hours of work and projects to keep your loved one busy.
Visit museums online
There are a seemingly endless number of museums to visit virtually worldwide, including several popular and well-known institutions:
- The British Museum, London: See art throughout history with a timeline by continent.
- The Guggenheim, New York: Take a virtual tour of this iconic spiral museum.
- The National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.: Choose from a list of historic exhibits available online.
- The Uffizi Gallery, Florence: If you can’t get to Italy, you can still visit this museum, built in 1765, with ancient artifacts and religious works.
In addition, Google Arts and Culture offers thousands of museums to visit virtually.
Watch classic movies
Take this up a level and can create a syllabus of films by genre to watch and discuss – musicals, film noir, romances – or you can watch all of the movies starring a favorite actor or actress. Don’t forget the popcorn! You can create a discussion guide for nearly any film to stimulate conversation. The American Film Institute recently published a 10th anniversary edition of its Top 100 films of all time, so see how many you can get through together!
Do some exercise
YouTube houses videos for nearly any exercise you want, so get your senior moving with a simple movement class or stretching program. You’ll enjoy it, too.
Take an online class
Ask your older adult if there’s something they’ve always wanted to learn to do or learn about, and chances are there’s a class they can take online. From world history to conversational Italian, instructors teach anything you want to learn. If your senior is ambitious, enroll them in a virtual class for credit through a community college, where they’ll have projects, tests and a final. There’s no age limit to learning!
It’s not unusual for older adults to have stacks of books and magazines, boxes of mementos, or other collections that need sorting or even discarding. Help your seniors go through their possessions and get rid of those items they no longer want or need while carefully storing and cataloging those that are precious or essential. This is especially important for valuable papers and legal documents.
Don’t give up on finding an activity that sparks enthusiasm in your senior. If one thing doesn’t work, try another. Eventually, you’ll discover something they love to do.