How to Facilitate Recreation and Activities for the Elderly
What is Successful Aging?
In 2003, researchers asked an elderly population in Manitoba Canada the following question: "what is your definition of successful aging?" Most people said successful aging involved: 1) being healthy, 2) staying physically fit, 3) maintaining mental health, and 4) staying socially active.
It turns out that it is exactly these four factors that play the greatest role in aging well. Research into aging populations has shown that not only are these 3 factors important for those of us in our later years but their absence early in our life increases the likelihood of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders later on.
The evidence is clear: staying healthy, staying physically fit, maintaining a positive and optimistic outlook, and staying socially active is important not only for successful aging but throughout the life span.
Challenges To Successful Aging | Staying Active
What lies at the heart of "successful aging" is, simply, the ability to remain active, and unfortunately, as we age, we find this increasingly difficult. The commonly accepted reason for this is that once we hit a certain age we'd rather spend our days in the rocking chair. However, Minnesota researcher Jan Hively found that staying in the rocking chair was the last thing the elderly want to do:
"About 40 percent of seniors interviewed said they worked after retirement age. About half said they needed the money, but the other half worked because they wanted to -- and planned to do so until physically unable. Many others said they stayed busy through volunteerism. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed also described themselves as active and healthy, well into their 80's."
So if the challenges to remain active do not stem from a lack of desire or motivation, where does the challenge come from? It turns out the main challenge to staying active arises from a decrease in physical function as we age: Carol Ewing Garber of Columbia University says:
"Physical function is the ability to perform both basic and instrumental activities of daily living, and the ability of older adults to reside in the community depends to a large extent on their level of physical function. As an older person experiences decline in physical function, s/he encounters increasing difficulty in engaging in the instrumental activities of daily living, and may address these difficulties by avoiding or limiting these activities. Because this decline can occur gradually, the accompanying changes in physical function may be subtle and not readily apparent to the healthcare providers, family--or even to the individual--until the person is unable to perform the activity at all. "
In her work, Dr. Garber found a strong correlation between being able to perform basic daily activities and scoring high on multiple physical and mental health-related variables, the bases of successful aging.
In short , the problem with declining activity is not due to a lack of motivation but instead is due to a natural decline in the ability to engage in those daily activities that support to successful aging.
How to Improve Elderly People's Activities of Daily Living | The Importance of Individual Assessment
The challenge then is to keep the elderly engaged in activities of daily living -- but it's not enough just to tell the elderly to hit the gym. As people age, there are many individual differences in the degree and type of physical activity someone can do. In order to motivate and help the elderly remain active, Amber Court stresses that it is critical for assisted living providers to perform individual assessment when it comes to designing activities and recreation.
Amber Court suggests assisted living practitioners should do the following:
- First, review a residence's medical history from as many sources as possible (e.g., physicians, nurses, social workers, family and friends). This will allow them to compile all the possible physical or cognitive impairments that challenge self-care. After this assessment, assisted living practitioners will better be able to plan activities based on the resident's strengths and weaknesses. Also, all planned activities and recreation should have realistic goals and clear expectations.
- Second, feedback is critical. Assisted living practitioners should not assume that everything will go according to plan. Instead, they should carefully measure and evaluate the performance of the resident and how well the activity suits the resident.
- Finally, as a resident grows older, their circumstances and bodies will change. Solutions that worked well in the past may not work today. Assisted living practitioners should periodically reassess the planned activities and recreation in terms of changes in weight, hygiene, overall enthusiasm and make changes accordingly.
By following these simple but critical guidelines, assisted living practitioners can maximize the likelihood that residents will remain as active as possible, and this in turn will maintain and build the foundation for successful aging.