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Great Activities for Seniors in Long Term Care

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Rose Mary has been an Occupational Therapist since 1987. She has treated children and adults with a wide array of conditions.

Approximately 5% of Americans over 65 reside in nursing homes or other types of long term care facilities. No one wants to have to live in a nursing home, but long term care is a reality for many of us.

What separates the great facilities from the mediocre and down right bad facilities? Lots of factors obviously. One factor is the amount of effort the staff puts into activities that stimulate and enrich the lives of the elderly. Seniors appreciate stimulating activities. Think outside the box!

San Antonio nursing home/long term care facility with fountain and beautiful landscaping.  Notice they are setting up for music entertainment!

San Antonio nursing home/long term care facility with fountain and beautiful landscaping. Notice they are setting up for music entertainment!

Craft project

Craft project

Craft Activities

Host craft activities for all major holidays and other special days, such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, and Labor Day.

Craft activities can hold wide appeal to seniors in long term care, if the crafted item is actually something someone would want to have, either for themselves, or as a gift they could give to a friend or family member. Most Occupational Therapists and Recreation Therapists have a lot of experience with crafts and craft kits. Unfortunately many therapists and facilities select “junk” kits with limited appeal.

In my experience, crafts like stained glass sun catchers, moccasin kits, and woodworking kits are popular with clients. There is a huge selection of woodworking kits alone. I like S&S Worldwide for arts & crafts kits. Help Hospitalized Veterans is an organization that supplies craft kits to veterans, and in my experience, the selection of kits is quite good.

Small greenhouse

Small greenhouse

Gardening Group or Green House

Personally, both of my thumbs are some color other than green. I wish it were not the case, because there are many benefits to being around plants. Just Google “benefits of plants”. Millions of people enjoy gardening and tending houseplants, and will attest to benefits, like stress relief and relaxation.

Many long term care facilities have small greenhouses, small gardens, or otherwise provide opportunities for residents to work with soil and plants. I first encountered this on an internship in Wisconsin when I was an Occupational Therapy student. There was a resident who had a stroke and couldn’t speak, who spent hours a day working in the greenhouse. You could look at her and tell how much joy it brought her to work with the plants.

If the facility does not have a greenhouse or garden, it would be easy enough for the Recreation team, or even family members to bring in plants and soil from time to time, and conduct a gardening group.

Men's Club

Conduct a Men’s Club weekly at your long term care facility. Common activities include card games and dominos, but there are many interesting possibilities.

Compile a movie log of movies with wide appeal to men. Movies might include WWII movies, John Wayne Westerns, Clint Eastwood Westerns, James Bond movies, and Hitchcock movies. Have the men pass the list around and choose a couple movies each. Then vote to prioritize from the custom list.

Residents may also enjoy viewings of History Channel or National Geographic channel programs.

Convene special Men’s Club meetings for sporting events, such as games by local teams, the World Series, the Super Bowl, or boxing events.

Have the men plan an annual show for all residents. Members could sing or play musical instruments, or have family members perform.

Red Hat Society

Women's Club

Conduct a weekly Women’s Club for your seniors. Common activities include pampering spa activities, card games and crafts, but these are just a few possibilities.

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Start a Red Hat Society group. The Red Hat Society is an international group for women over 50, that “supports and encourages women to pursue fun, friendship, freedom, fulfillment of lifelong dreams and fitness.”

Hold screenings of “chick flicks” from the 1940s and 50s. Compile a list of favorite movies from the ladies, such as movies starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Ester Williams, and Grace Kelly.

Residents may also enjoy viewing movies and programs from the Hallmark Channel, Oprah Winfrey Network, Lifetime for Women, or Biography.

Convene special meetings for viewing world events like Royal weddings.

Have the women plan an annual show for all residents. Members could sing or play musical instruments, or have family members perform. Plan the show approximately 4-6 months apart from the Men’s Club’s annual show.

Book Club

Form a book club, and meet once a week, or even two or three times a week. Have members read chapters aloud each meeting. Alternatively, play talking books.

Book themes could rotate throughout the year. Consider current best sellers, best sellers from 40 or 50 years ago, or books famous movies have been based on.

Classic literature would be a great topic area. Books could be classics like The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, or Great Expectations.

Another spin would be to feature books by authors like Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, or Pearl Buck who won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Consider books covering important events in history, like books by Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, and Walter Cronkite.

Grandma's Biscuits

Cooking Group

Cookies, sheet cakes, and cupcakes are simple, common fare for cooking groups in nursing homes. Get creative!

Have your group plan a complete meal, starting with the shopping. Meals could be thematic, such as holiday meals, international cuisine, personal specialties, and family recipes.

Make YouTube videos of specialty techniques and recipes. Have someone show how to make homemade biscuits, homemade noodles, streudel or plum cake.

Consider a zoo trip

Consider a zoo trip


Shopping, dining, movies, and bingo are common outings for seniors from long term care facilities. Plan diverse offerings once or twice a month.

Visit local attractions such as museums, zoos, botanical gardens, and historic sites. Go to plays, dinner theater, and symphony pops performances.

Organize trips to ball games, parades, and festivals.

Carnival activities

Carnival activities

Family Fun Night

Organize family nights with a variety of activities going on at once, such as board games, dramatic readings, charades, and crafts.

Residents and family members, including grandchildren and great grandchildren could sing or play music, perform skits, or read jokes or stories.

Reminiscing Group

It’s been widely known that the elderly enjoy and benefit from reminiscing. Organize a variety of rotating themes.

Have residents assist in compiling a list of topics of interest, based on the “pop culture” of their time. Themes could be based around music, movies, sporting events, and world events. Search pictures from the internet, and let them make collages.

Other themes could be much more personal, such as their wedding, their favorite childhood memory, their favorite teacher, their favorite aunt or uncle, or their favorite pet.

Host special sessions for military veterans to tell their stories.

Do a little dance...

Do a little dance...

Music and Dancing

Who doesn’t love music?!

Organize sing-a-longs, karaoke, and Christmas caroling. Have little informal dances, and “chair dancing” sessions.

Bring in guest singers and groups from schools, churches, and local talent. Likewise, bring in dancers and dance groups. Family members are often willing to perform, and many individuals and groups are devoted to “giving back” and regularly perform in long term care facilities.

Nursing home residents enjoying musical performance

Nursing home residents enjoying musical performance

A very young me with a couple facility "residents", two doxie chihuahua mixes

A very young me with a couple facility "residents", two doxie chihuahua mixes

Pet Visits

Host pet visitors regularly. Most humans enjoy animals. Schedule days for residents’ or families’ pets to visit. Have staff members bring pets. Many individuals and organizations make pet visits to nursing homes.

When I was a student, I did a 6 week internship at a facility that had multiple small dogs that lived in the facility. Throughout the day, the dogs slept on the laps of various residents. At night they slept in kennels in the recreation room, but you could often catch residents making late night visits.

Groups & Organizations

Do you have nursing home residents that are members of organizations like VFW, American Legion, or Daughters of the American Revolution? Find local chapters that might be willing to come into the facility to have meetings a couple times a year.

Car Hop Waitress

Car Hop Waitress

Mealtime Fun

Turn meals into an event once a month. Have staff or volunteers dress up in fun costumes to serve and interact with residents throughout the meal.

Servers could dress as servers from 1950s diners, or wear roller skates. Perhaps more fun, servers could dress in period costumes, or impersonate famous people or characters. Costumes are not just for Halloween!

Holiday Fun

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it. There should be a plethora of holiday themed activities every holiday! What self-respecting nursing home staffers would let major or minor holidays go unnoticed?! Think outside the box. Make a big deal of holidays.

© 2012 rmcrayne


Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on April 20, 2015:

I have had aunts in nursing homes but didn't see activities like these. I wish there were, it would have made it better for them to have to stay there. voted up.

rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on April 06, 2012:

Thanks Peggy. My brother Devon (you met him at HubCamp) is also an OT and worked long term care for about 10 years. He brainstormed a list for me. He was great with geriatrics, but has recently joined me in doing peds.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 06, 2012:

Hi Rosemary,

If I ever end up in a nursing home (hope not, but one never knows...) I'd like you to be in charge! Thanks for answering my question with such a great hub. Voted up, useful and will share with my followers + tweet.

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