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Recreational Leisure Activities for Seniors

Rita Dichele - October 31, 2016 11:04 AM

In my previous article regarding seniors and leisure activities, I suggested that it is extremely beneficial for your loved one to have some recreation in their lives.  Participating in a recreational activity might actually improve a chronic health condition or at least slow down its progression.  There is evidence found in medical journals to collaborate this.  Furthermore, leisure undertakings are different recreational activities seniors can engage in during their free time.  Activities can include physical and mental practices such as playing bridge, knitting, traveling, and even volunteering. 
Who Can Participate?

Participating in leisure activities can be hindered by how well your loved one’s physical and mental status are.  For instance, high functioning seniors have good and even excellent health with good mobility; allowing them to be able to engage in exercise programs such as aerobics.  Limited and moderately impaired seniors have chronic health conditions that limit them from participating in rigorous physical activities.  Low functioning seniors are either bed-ridden, confined to a wheel chair, or in the later stages of dementia.  Thus, it would not make sense for low functioning seniors to play sports.  However, they could participate in on-line computer games.

Why are Seniors Resistant to Participate?

As caregivers our intentions are well-deserved when we guide our loved ones to engage in activities we believe are in their best interest.  However, as much as we know that most seniors can benefit from some type of recreational activity, there can be significant obstacles that get in the way. 

There are some legitimate obstacles to consider.  For instance, it can be challenging to address physical and mental issues.  Chronic health conditions can limit seniors’ activities.  For example, back pain can prevent participation in exercise classes.  Furthermore, sensory deficits such as hearing loss and vision impairment can keep seniors at home.

Transportation could be problematic especially if seniors are depending on rides from their caregivers.  Of course, there is always the city transit or senior center transportation, but for some seniors public transportation is not always user friendly. 

Furthermore, seniors can be fixated on the idea that those who participate in leisure activities, let’s say at a senior center, are too old; not smart enough; do not have the same interests; and in some instances too poor.   

Finally, seniors of today grew up with a strong Protestant Work Ethic – a valued ethical belief that leisure activities are non-productive.  So, such a belief can actually work against seniors’ quality of life and retard successful aging.

What Can Caregivers Do?

Because many seniors can be depressed and lonely, isolation can undermine getting out of their homes.  Therefore, it can be no easy task to convince seniors that recreation will improve their mood.  There are, however, appropriate strategies to take to help your loved ones. 

One of my favorite strategies when my mom was alive was to brainstorm with her, making a list of activities she might like.  For instance, senior center art classes; church bible study groups; community centers – an intergenerational get together; volunteering, e.g.,, greeter at a high school; ESL tutor; literacy tutor; senior companion, etc.

Another strategy to consider might be to facilitate a class at the senior center.  Starting a group is one way of getting your loved one involved as well as helping with easing the pain of being the “new kid on the block”.  I actually ran a current events group for six years and found that my mom’s participation not only benefited her, but the other seniors in the group as well.  I also found the experience extremely rewarding.


Try to remain patient with your loved one.  I know it can be frustrating, especially when you wholeheartedly believe recreation will improve your loved one’s quality of life.  Be gentle not only with your loved one, but yourself as well.  Finally, be empathetic.  Put yourself in your loved ones shoes.  It is not easy to take on the task of meeting new people.  Remember, today’s seniors as the result of the aging process, are witnessing the passing of friends as well as losing them to chronic conditions that might make them bed-ridden.  This can be discouraging and contribute to their isolation.

All and all, it is a difficult time.  Seniors typically want to remain autonomous, making their own decisions.  Therefore, to have their caregiver insist they participate in recreation with strangers, can be overwhelming to say the least. 

However, there is supporting research that a positive connection between successful aging and participation in leisure activities is evident, showing that it can improve quality of living, increase well-being, sustain happiness and improve self-esteem; hence, why are seniors so resistant to the idea of recreational activities?  

My next article in this series on leisure activities will discuss specific community activities to explore.

Rita Dichele holds three Master degrees in Counseling Psychology, Health Care Administration, and Human Services.  Ms. Dichele is certified in death & dying and bereavement from the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC).  She is on faculty with A.T. Still University and instructs classes in grief work and long-term care.

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