My mother’s dear friend Char, from Windsor, drove over the Ambassador Bridge to our Detroit suburb every other Wednesday to pick up Mom’s groceries and play Scrabble. They were known to rachet up three hundred point-plus games on a regular basis, the winner often coming down to the last few tiles. It was often one of the best parts of my mother’s week and brought her immense joy knowing that afternoon with Char was a recurring event on the horizon.
Unless you are retired or otherwise unemployed with no other responsibilities, it may be impossible to imagine a life without any set thing to do, where the days blend into one another, where each waking morning stares down a blank canvas—sixteen hours of largely unstructured activity. What will you do all day? How will you spend the hours? Outside of breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and the occasional tv show or sports game, how will you structure your day?
What may sound like a dream to busy people can become a nightmare for people requiring care—especially elderly folks who may not have much human interaction throughout their day. While retirement may be a waking dream for stealthy individuals, those with health or mobility challenges may struggle to fill the days. And those who live alone are at greater risk of isolation—and the mental, physical and emotional effects that can create.
Building an activities list is one of the best things you can do to ensure your loved one is staying mentally and physically active (if possible), and helps combat loneliness and isolation. Focus on things they can do in the home, as that is where they spend the vast majority of their day. Physical outings such as going to a museum or restaurant or coffee shop are wonderful, but comprise only a small portion of the week and take much more coordination and planning.
Here’s a starter list of activities you can help facilitate in the home. In some cases, the person you are caring for may not think they need “help” with planning their day. They may balk at the idea of an activities list or at people being “scheduled” to visit them. If you sense this might be the case—keep the list secret! This exercise is for both your sanity and theirs—whether they realize that or not.
Audiobooks (from the library, bookstore, or downloadable on Audible)
Ted Talks (podcast or videos online)
Card games (in-person or online)
Volunteer activities (ex: flower therapy at the children’s hospital, meals on wheels, writing letters to troops away in combat, etc. Even though they may require care themselves, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some volunteer activities they can engage in.)
Photography projects (How many old photos and photo books do you have lying around? Get to organizing them!)
Upskilling (Lynda.com, degreed.com, many pathways for learning a new skill)
Take a class (many local colleges offer free classes for seniors)
MasterClass (online, industry experts from economist Malcolm Gladwell to columnist Paul Krugman teach about their field)
Create their own podcast! (How many life stories might they like to share? Get them set up and let them fly!)
Skype or Zoom dates with friends and family (may need assistance scheduling)
Game days (Scrabble, Bingo, you name it) – you can often find volunteers from the local church paper, or even folks you know, to visit
Movie night w/grandkids / other
Cooking and/or baking together
Walks around the neighborhood or park
Watching home videos
Participate in charitable works!
Arts and crafts
After you have identified a few dozen activities you think your loved one would like (and if you think they’d be open to it), ask them about it! Then set up a schedule. Perhaps one of their friends comes over on Tuesdays for Scrabble, a la my mother’s friend Char. Maybe Thursdays are reserved for painting, with a few hour time block for online learning. The schedule can flux week-to-week, the important thing is to keep a rotating list of things to keep your loved one busy, active and connected.
Folks with severe memory, mental or physical limitations will require more help—our blogs on finding caregivers will help you figure out who can provide care and activities and what that might look like.
This should give you a great start!