When a loved one lives in a nursing home or assisted living, visiting regularly is an important way to stay connected and show how much you care. Spending time with you will brighten their day and knowing when you’ll visit next gives them something to look forward to.
But some people may find it awkward or uncomfortable to visit because they don’t know what to do or say. Having some ideas in mind and bringing activities with you can make visiting fun and positive.
To make your next visit a big success, we’ve rounded up 10 fantastic, senior-friendly things to do with someone in a nursing home or assisted living.
Many of these activities are equally as good for seniors who are seriously ailing or have Alzheimer’s or dementia. Your visits can be incredibly supportive and meaningful, even if they can’t participate much or don’t remember it later – their feelings of happiness and contentment will stay with them.
Seniors living in a care community can get lonely because they have so little contact with family. Use your visit as a chance to keep them connected and reassure them that they’re not forgotten.
To keep them in touch with family members, you could bring visitors with you – especially children, teens, or someone who might feel too awkward to visit on their own. For family members who live far away, arrange video chats or phone calls so they also have a chance to virtually visit with your loved one.
When bringing children to visit, you might want to bring a puzzle, art project or simple game so they’ll have something fun to do with your loved one. A shared activity helps them bond and keeps everyone happily engaged.
Another idea is to encourage a young child to bring something for “show and tell.” This way they can share toys, etc. they’re excited about. Sharing videos of the kids’ activities is another fun way to spend time together. Everyone could watch a video of a soccer game, school play or other event together.
Sharing current photos and videos is another way to keep your loved one in the loop on everyday family activities or trips. They’ll especially enjoy watching videos of the kids. You could even share Facebook feeds to show what family members have been up to lately.
When possible, include your loved one in family celebrations. If they’re able to attend in person, you could help them get excited about the event by telling them about the planning or asking for their input on food, music or decor. At the event, take plenty of pictures so you can share and revisit the fun times during future visits.
Music has a universal ability to boost mood, reduce agitation and increase happiness and engagement. It’s also a wonderful activity to share with your loved one.
When you’re together, play their favorite songs or set up a simple music player so they can listen anytime. You could sit and listen together, have an impromptu sing along or listen as they reminisce over memories from younger days.
If you’re not sure what music they enjoy, ask relatives or bring a selection of songs that came out when they were young, and ask them which ones they like most.
Music is also an ideal activity when your loved one isn’t well or has reached a stage of their illness where they can only lie in bed. Soft music is calming, comforting and something you can still do together.
If you’re not sure they’re enjoying the music, watch their body language for clues. If they seem agitated, switch to something more soothing, lower the sound, or switch to a different activity.
Looking over old photos or videos is a great way to spend time together and strengthen your bond. You never know what stories or memories your loved one will be inspired to share. Photos are also a great conversation starter.
If you and your loved one would be interested in a project, you could even work on creating a family tree or family history – something that’s both fun and meaningful!
Petting a dog or stroking a cat is a highly therapeutic activity. The next time you visit, why not bring your pet with you? If your loved one is an animal lover, they’d probably be overjoyed to spend time with an animal, especially a beloved family pet.
Research has found that spending time playing with animals lowers heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels. In the long run, interacting with a pet can even lower cholesterol, prevent depression and protect against heart disease and stroke.
But before you bring a pet, check with the care community to make sure furry visitors are allowed.
We all enjoy companionship when we eat. Whether you join them in their community dining room or take them out to a restaurant, sharing a meal is another way to bond with your loved one.
If mealtime isn’t the right time for a visit, you could still have a snack together. Bring a little “picnic” set up of tea and cookies, crackers and cheese, or something your loved one really loves. You could even jazz it up with a mock cocktail – add sparkling juice or bubbly water to lemonade, juice or iced tea, and put it in a nice glass!
You can also use the opportunity to help your loved one get some fresh air and exercise. Instead of staying in their room, take them outside to the courtyard or garden. That could mean walking slowly and supporting them as needed, or pushing their wheelchair.
If the care community doesn’t have a suitable outdoor area, walking around inside the building is still a great activity – and good for their health.
Going out can be a treat for someone living in a nursing home or assisted living. If their health permits, a wonderful thing to do for your loved one is to pick them up, and take them anywhere they’d like to go.
They might enjoy going to religious services, the hair salon, a drugstore or the shopping mall. Or, maybe they’d enjoy eating at favorite restaurants, getting some ice cream, strolling through a museum or park, or taking a scenic drive. You could also take them to visit nearby friends or family members.
Discuss this idea with your loved one to see if they’d be interested. Some people may want to go out, but need your help to choose where to go. Offering two options is often helpful – shall we take a walk in the park or visit the ice cream shop?
Many people in nursing homes and assisted living would benefit from the therapeutic effects of touch. Depending on your relationship with your loved one, some pampering may be a great way to spend an afternoon.
You could bring some lightly scented lotion and give them a gentle hand massage or bring some tools and give them a manicure. Women may even enjoy some nail polish.
Some people enjoy a good body massage. Consider giving a gentle massage while they sit in their usual chair. Use a very light touch (senior skin and muscles may be fragile) and massage their neck, shoulders, back and arms – wherever you can reach.
Another fantastic activity is reading aloud. It’s a great way to connect and let them know how much you care without having to make a lot of conversation.
Reading aloud is especially good for older adults who are bedbound, not very responsive due to an advanced health condition or those with vision impairments.
Bring one of their favorite books, and read a chapter or two each time you visit. Or, you could bring an audiobook that both of you could listen to together.
Watching TV or a movie is something we often do with friends and family – why not do it with your loved one at the nursing home? It’s another way to spend time together without feeling so much pressure to make conversation.
If your older adult has a TV in their room, consider getting them a DVD player so you can watch movies. If you have a laptop computer or tablet device and subscribe to a service like Netflix, you could watch whatever you like on-demand.
Ask them what they’d like to see – perhaps there are older movies or shows they’d love to watch again. Or, maybe there are current shows you know they’d love to see. No matter what you watch, it’s a great way to relax and enjoy each other’s company.
Are any of your loved ones currently in a nursing home or assisted living facility? What do you and your loved one enjoy doing together when you visit them? What ideas or suggestions would you add to this list? Please share your comments below.