It often feels impossible to bridge the growing gaps between generations. For children or grandchildren hoping to gain a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, their loved ones, it is quite often difficult to know where to start. Wide differences in generations bring different interests, understandings, and with old age, different abilities.
For visiting family members, and even younger friends and caregivers, it can be a challenge to find meaningful things to do with older adults.
I have experienced this challenge firsthand during my years working with seniors and their adult children. It was particularly challenging for family whose elder relative was in the stages of serious mental and physical decline.
While there are a lot of amazing things to do in retirement, many of these are even better when shared with loved ones. Retirement age isn’t necessarily “old” age, however. Following are some ideas on meaningful things to do, so that the time is not wasted, and both have something to gain from the time spent.
These ideas might not work for everyone, but I’ve seen firsthand that the right activities can bring a smile to the senior person’s face, and that is the sign that a meaningful encounter had occurred.
Meaningful Things to Do with an Elderly Person
Older generations did far more gardening than today’s younger generations do. While it may have been in part out of necessity, many appreciated the act of watching plants grow from seed. As your loved one becomes older, they may feel inclined to give up their much loved gardening past time as the physical activity becomes more difficult.
With your help and the help of some senior gardening tools and tips, you and your loved one can continue to garden well into their golden years. Gardening can stock their kitchen with delicious vegetables and fruits, and in the case of the loved one the additional benefits of gardening become even more important.
You can help them with the heavy lifting duties that come in the spring and fall. A weekly visit can also turn into a “let’s go weed the garden together” activity where the elder gets physical activity, fresh air, and companionship.
One of the best ways to keep you and your loved one busy is to start knitting. Most seniors usually have a lot of spare time that can easily translate to boredom. Knitting for elderly therefore helps them focus on something else that uses their creativity to enhance their skills.
They can even teach those skills to younger generations which make it more enjoyable. Although it is perfect for introverts and loved ones under home care, knitting can also be used to enhance social behavior such as in cases where a few people who enjoy the activity come together to share their skills and experiences. Knitting also also comes with unexpected benefits, improving the loved ones quality of life.
Cooking a dish or even a whole meal from scratch with an elderly loved one offers benefits beyond just the tasty results. It imparts all sorts of important knowledge (usually from the senior), it’s a great way to bond, it fuels creativity, builds confidence in and out of the kitchen, and it gives you and the loved one a lifetime values.
Sharing kitchen activities along with recipes and stories helps bring generations together. Taking the lead comes naturally for many elderly loved ones, who tend to have more patience than younger family members. They’ve seen fingers (perhaps of kids who’ve grown into impatient parents) in the frosting bowl and flour on the floor before, so they can let kids feel like they’re getting away with breaking the rules without suffering any consequences.
If your loved one needs help with healthy food prep and doesn’t qualify for Meals on Wheels, cooking together can provide the added benefit of prepping meals for the week. That way the senior can take healthy meals out of the fridge or freezer as needed.
4) Taking a Road Trip
The opportunity to take your loved one on a road trip is a wonderful thing. Older seniors can become bored and isolated. You could consider taking them on holiday, to a wedding or to see other relatives. However, it also comes with challenges, as elderly people may need to stop and stretch their legs more often and may need more comfort.
If your loved one is in a nursing home, then staff may be able to help prepare them for the journey. Taking them out in a car is great as it gets them out of their usual surroundings and gives them new stimulation. Longer road trips may be necessary if your loved one is in an isolated area. A trip out of the country may also be possible as some countries are disability-friendly, making travel for those with limited mobility easier.
According to the Chicago Tribune regular, focused activities can greatly benefit loved ones living with memory loss. Painting, sculpting and similar pursuits are a way to challenge the mind and promote cognitive abilities. The Tribune reports that some may even find that the act of being creative can uncover connections and passions about the world that can otherwise be clouded by memory loss
6) Learning to Speak a Foreign Language
Are you or your loved one ever too old to learn a new language? The good news is that experts say you are never too old. Studies show that anyone at any age can learn a new language. In fact, it is even easier to start speaking in a foreign language now with all the advanced technology available on the market. A chatbot, for instance, can teach you words and grammar through fun and engaging games. It can also help you with your accent of the language that you want to learn.
Best of all for the aging adult, learning a foreign language is a great way to challenge the mind. “Use it or lose it” applies to the mind as much as the body.
7) Set Up a Family Tree
Most seniors love to pass on family history. There is a great sense of joy and pride in coming together as a family to share and discover facts you never knew about your collective past. It will remind you and your loved one of the bigger community you are a part of. More importantly, it is an opportunity for family members to come together and strengthen their ties.
Your loved one, as an elder in the family, would be familiar with stories of distant relatives, ancestors and long lost family traditions. Building a family tree together with your loved one is a great opportunity for you to bring your family past, present and future, together.
Getting together with your loved one to a build a family tree is a great way to unite your family and share the joy of preserving your family’s heritage. Parents can trace where the family began and discover where it is headed. More than just a fun family activity, the family tree can guide and reassure for the younger generation as they explore their own path in the years to come.
8) Run Errands
Running errands may not sound like a meaningful thing to do with a senior, but it can be when done mindfully. Errands and appointments are a part of life, but for your loved one, they can be formidably challenging.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make these daily chores easier for your loved one. This includes scheduling necessary medical and dental appointments and creating timely appointment reminders. You can also help manage the logistics of the errand, including arranging for transportation and ensuring that your loved one has the assistance they need to prepare for the appointment, ensuring that they know they are loved and appreciated.
After the errands are done, plan to go out for lunch or get an ice cream. This is a great way to cap off otherwise mundane tasks.
You and your loved one can connect with other like-minded individuals for a worthy cause. Together you can make your community a better place to live in. It doesn’t matter how large or small the charity group is, you and your loved one can still build lasting relationships with other volunteers. After completing one good deed, you can join another organization together. By dedicating some of your time to volunteer can make new friends, enhance your people skills, and expand your social networks.
10) Start a Book Club
It is not surprising that as the amount of time people spend on activities such as browsing social media and playing online video games increases, the amount of time people spend reading books decreases.
Americans between the ages of 20 and 34 spend only an average of 7 minutes reading per day.
Beyond just better vocabulary and cultural exchange, one of the most prominent benefits of reading is the enriching shared experience it may leave you and your loved one with. Literary masterpieces are known to give a new perspective on life, love, and thoughts and ancient wisdoms that still hold true.
11) Learn a New Skill
Every generation is skilled at using the technology of its era. For example, people today are very good at driving cars, using smartphones, setting up home entertainment systems, and so forth. The problem is, if the end of the world as we know it ever happens, all those skills will be useless. The skills of our forefathers, on the other hand, will never be useless. Seniors can teach you some of the skills of yesteryear.
You could get your loved one to teach you how to darn socks, sharpen knives, or make jam. On the flip side, you could teach your loved one how to use a smartphone or play the latest game.
Mastering just a few of these skills will put you and your loved one leagues ahead of the average person, in your respective age group. Pick one that interests you and your loved one the most and start practicing.
12) A Day Trip Exploring Your Local City/town
You and your loved one dream to be travellers. Put your walking shoes and dust your camera off.
There are so many hidden places in your hometown that you and your loved one have not even given a thought to. Get to know places in your area and see it with new eyes. You will both, be amazed when you discover how many places you have not visited in your own city/town.
Eat food you never thought you would: You and your loved one are now tourists, so make it count. Visit the takeaway restaurant or sit-down restaurant you never thought you would even try.
13) Visit Friends
Technology has given us lots of ways to stay in touch with loved ones, but sometimes, there’s nothing like a face-to-face visit. Visits might not be a practical option for everybody, but they’re well worth the effort whenever possible. Visiting in person is a great way for you and your loved one to maintain relationships with others while getting out of the house and staying active.
Of course, it’s easiest for people to plan visits when they live near friends and family members. One of the best ways to stay in touch is to make a standing date for meet-ups.
14) Join a Gym/Shared Healthy Activity
Older adults often suffer from health conditions such as heart disease and loss of muscle mass due to a lack of physical activity. Joining a gym can help prevent these issues.
According to the CDC, Adults aged 65 and older need:
- At least 150 minutes a week (for example, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) of moderate intensity activity such as brisk walking. Or they need 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity such as hiking, jogging, or running.
- At least 2 days a week of activities that strengthen muscles.
- Activities to improve balance such as standing on one foot about 3 days a week.
15) Family Get Together
Eating together is one of the many things that bond families.
Across generations and cultures, sharing a meal has always been about so much more than just eating food. Family meals bring you and your loved ones together to swap stories, play games, discuss current events, and learn from one another. Common meals are a chance for families to come together as one and truly share something special — whether that means passing down old school recipes, or making treasured new memories around the table.
16) A Night Out
The theater is the oldest entertainment medium in the world. A great advantage is that the plays are live and the audience has the opportunity to interact with the actors and actresses. It is an event for which you and your loved one can prepare, by wearing smart clothes and doing your hair.
Learning a new sport goes much further than helping you get fit or finding an outlet for excess energy and stress. It can improve your physical and cognitive abilities, expose you to new challenges, and allow you to adopt a growth mind set.
You and your loved one could try:
- Bocce Ball: Pronounced as Bo-chee, this sport has been around since 5200 BC and is still going strong in many parts of Europe. It’s a simple low- intensity sport that can be played indoors and outdoors. The object is for each team/ player to get 4 large, weighted balls as close as possible to a small ball called the jack, which gets rolled first.
- Croquet: A full game can get you to walk up to 2-3 miles and will give you one a full workout. Born in Victorian England, the game is still going strong all over the world. But, it’s the game’s popularity among seniors that has earned it a place in this list.
- Pickle Ball: One of the most popular sports among seniors, pickle ball is currently being played by nearly 3 million older adults across the country. The game is easy and very social because it is usually played in doubles.
Plus, it isn’t as hard on the back and the knees as tennis. You will still be out on the court having fun but this time, instead of a tennis racquet and ball, you will be playing with a perforated plastic ball and a paddle made from composite material.
And for those of you who think that this one is just good for a bit of fun and a few laughs, think again. According to studies, regular pickle ball sessions help to keep the cardiovascular system healthy and depression at bay.
- Miniature Golf: It might be a “golden oldie,” but it’s loved by all to this day. Teenagers still enjoy hitting a round of mini-golf, so this is the perfect afternoon activity for the whole family to enjoy. Like bowling, it’s sure to be full of laughs!
18) Game Night
The elderly make great gamers! While they’re not likely to pick up a controller for a video game, they are pros at classic card and board games. These are fun ways to bring the whole family into the moment for some classic family fun.
Most senior citizens prefer activities that will not cause physical exhaustion and fishing falls into that category. Many fishing enthusiasts enjoy getting out in the fresh air and sunshine, not to mention the adrenaline rush that can come from successfully catching a fish.
You don’t have to do anything extravagant to spend time together. Being together is all about appreciating the little things, whether you stay at home or explore nature by each other’s side.
The bond between you and your loved one is strong, and they truly last a lifetime. While there might be more gaps between the generations than ever before, you can close them with a few thoughtful activities. This list below will get you started no matter how much distance lies between you. Now is the time to cherish these memories. Your loved ones won’t be around forever, so appreciate all the time you do have—even in the little moments.
Spending time with an elderly loved one who is losing mobility and/or memory can be a challenge as you look for meaningful ways to spend time with them. Regardless of their ability level, however, there are activities you can do together that you will both benefit from.
I hope this list of activities gets you started toward more memorable, meaningful interactions.
Did I miss anything? What have you found that works? Let us know in the comments section.