Activities for Elderly, Sane Parents?
September 2, 2010 9:13 PM   Subscribe

I don't want my senior citizen parents to die of boredom. Help me keep them busy with stimulating activities, online or otherwise! (I swear I'm not a controlling son. Well, maybe just a bit.)

My parents, aged 72 and 69, are retired, affluent, sane, reasonably healthy (mother has rheumatoid arthritis) and stuck in a rut. They basically watch TV, read books, surf the Web and tend to the garden. They have also complained to me that it might be a good idea for them to take up something new. I have some ideas -- maybe learn a new kind of cuisine or painting or develop their knowledge of a narrow, interesting topic. But when I suggest anything they just shrug. I think they'd be interested in trying something new, but I would have to do all the work in advance and then present it to them. I get the feeling they are at a crossroads, rationally desiring new experiences, but restrained by inertia (a problem in their personalities). (Also, I don't live in the same city.)

My question is to those here who have been in a similar situation and have had any success with interesting activities that appeal to their parents. Help! =)
posted by teedee2000 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I gave my parents a subscription to (after filling out some of the family tree myself.) They're really, really into it to a ridiculous extent now. They drive all over to old cemeteries to find gravestones. Otherwise it's a lot of internet, which might not be new enough for them/you.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:18 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Buy them a Wii with the new Wii sports resort and the Lego Star Wars\Harry Potter\Indiana Jones games.

I have so many friends that did this for their parents -- who had never played video games before -- and they just love it.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:34 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

If the issue is that they are not averse to activity but it's a bit of a hassle leaving the house (and since they are affluent and can afford this), you can hire people to come over for sessions of:

Dance Lessons (very popular and can lead to social activities like attending dance events)
Personal Training/Aerobics
Cooking lessons

These type of tailored, in-own-home experiences have helped several older couples/people I know stay out of the rut and stay engaged with new activities and people. Ensure the person you choose has a great sunshiney demeanour and are able to be reliable with turning up regularly!

Additionally, my parents have enjoyed together:

Playing with a Wii Fit (a super hit with my mum in particular!)
Joining a neighbourhood group/book club/walking group
Learning how to do more on a computer (blogging, uploading photos, using Facebook)
Taichi/breathing exercise groups in the park
posted by shazzam! at 9:36 PM on September 2, 2010

Do they have a video camera, like a Flip camera? Filming stuff, editing the footage with a software program and incorporating old family videos/home movies could be fun. (And lots cooler than pasting photos into albums.)

If your mom has arthritis, painting isn't going to be a big treat for her.

Any new plants they might enjoy raising? Roses, cacti, orchids, carnivorous?

Is there a lecture series, film series or music program offered locally that they might enjoy season tickets to?

Local history society?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:37 PM on September 2, 2010 has tons and tons of games specifically designed for older folks. I bet your mother would quickly get hooked on the Mystery Case Files series.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:40 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do they like pets? A new puppy would certainly keep them occupied...
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:48 PM on September 2, 2010

My mum loves her Nintendo DS!
posted by analog at 9:51 PM on September 2, 2010

Are they techie-ish / handy-man-ish enough to try something out like hydroponics? Aquariums? Combining them both - aquaponics? (That's where it's all an integrated system and the fish poop fertilizes the plants.)

Running a local gardening web site / forum / blog / photo gallery? Running a local political web site, or any other sort of local site?

How about writing articles on Wikipedia? If you choose an obscure or specialized topic and you learn how to make a stub / starter article in a way that prevents "patrollers" from strangling it in the cradle, you can avoid alot of the slap-fighting that discourages people with WP. Or maybe they would like fighting with people. Obscure stuff also avoids the vandalism / knocking-over-your-sandcastles for the most part.

I find it interesting to read the really old books on Google Books (all the ones from before 1923 are free... you can day-by-day read contemporary magazines leading up to and through WWI and see how people were reacting and what they were talking about, it's fascinating), run through a few different sources on the same topic, and write little WP articles about them. You can really feel like you're doing something important when it seems like you've done the first writing on a subject in a hundred years, you're letting silenced voices speak from a century ago, and someone a hundred years in the future might end up coming across your writing and appreciating it or might even need it, if we have some sort of Library of Alexandria thing happen with the Google Books archive.

There are lots of other sites related to the Wikipedia project - Wikisource transcribing and curating old books, Wikibooks writing new books that are more in-depth than encyclopedia articles can be, Wikiversity creating online courses and student materials or even running courses online if you can find enough interested students, Wikinews armchair journalism... Another nice activity could be finding articles that are missing photos, like articles on small towns or small museums or historic buildings, then travelling around taking photos and uploading to Wikimedia Commons (where all of the photos and sound files and things go) and adding them to the articles. (That's another thing that people don't get too fighty about even in popular / mainstream articles; usually the most they'll do is disagree with you about where to place the image in the article.)

There's also Wikia, the commercial side-project of the Wikipedia people, where anyone can create their own wiki for free on just about any subject, or join other wikis that cover things like recipes, your pets, creative writing, favorite tv shows or films...

Another thought, how about some sort of community service?
posted by XMLicious at 10:11 PM on September 2, 2010

Some colleges have programs to allow older folks to audit classes for free (paying is nice, too, if they'd enjoy being graded).

Some older folks get into tutoring ESL - that could be really nice. Social contact, helping people, developing new skills (teaching).

And then, there's always bird watching - and bird-watching-related travel.
posted by amtho at 11:12 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm constantly having my ass kicked by the senior citizens at my lawn bowling club. It's good exercise, lots of camraderie, low impact, and takes skill. Even though your mom has arthritis, she may still be interested as there is often gardening at clubs, weekly socials, and umpires and markers needed for games. I'm not sure where they are (I didn't come across it til I moved to the West Coast) but there are clubs all over the country. Here's a link to the national association.
posted by loriginedumonde at 12:07 AM on September 3, 2010

University of the Third Age - either online or in person, depending on where you are.
posted by Coobeastie at 3:15 AM on September 3, 2010

How about a foreign language? They'd meet new people and it might encourage them to go travelling to the countries in question.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:58 AM on September 3, 2010

Do they like games? Bridge! Playing at a bridge club = social life + intellectually stimulating.
posted by gaspode at 4:45 AM on September 3, 2010

Does their local YMCA support AOA (Active Older Adults program)? See this Google link.
My wife and I go three times a week and keep fit and ?sane? this way.

Our Y also runs Silver Sneakers (a health,wellness and exercise fitness program helping older adults and seniors live fit, active and independent lifestyles and see benefits of healthy living).

Or get involved with Ask Metafilter / Metalfilter :)
posted by lungtaworld at 5:01 AM on September 3, 2010

62 and recently retired here. As it has only been a few months, I am no expert.

Most of the replies here seem to center on being entertained. That's OK, I like being entertained...

Could it be however, that what they are lacking is the sense of productivity and being needed many working people experience?

Right now I am simply reveling in not being important. Getting back to simplicity. Walking my land, discovering stuff about the area I live in that I never had time or energy to pursue.

The world is full of treasures, whether a city or, as in my case, a mountain cabin.

At some point though, I will have the need to contribute. I plan to volunteer.

I have yet to decide what form that will take. It's going to take some thought. Education is a natural in my case, as I was a teacher and a principal. On the other hand, I am "burned out" by the 40 years of promises, etc.

So, I may go in a completely different direction. There is an amazing "Healing Garden" at a local (30 miles away) hospital that I have long wanted to be part of. Seniors here need transportation of all kinds. It is 100 miles for chemo, radiation, and dialysis.

I think there is no greater self gift than giving if done for the right reasons. It can take myriad forms. The local VA? A docent at a museum? Hell, I've even thought of the local jail.

The cool thing about volunteering is just that--you're volunteering. Unlike a job, if it don't fit, there are other opportunities. One can focus on areas in which thery have expertise or passion (eg, an animal shelter) or step completely out of their experience.

I feel younger than I have since I was thirty. I have no less passion. What do these people actually like? What makes their emotions rise in conversation? What life experiences changed them? What paths did they not pursue that they wish they had? What skills do they have that they might mentor someone else with? Even the SBA has SCORE (service corps of retired executives).

Even though I live in a very remote area, I feel as though I have lots of opportunities, many not obvious.

Like many, I had fears of retirement. A life of making birdhouses in the workshop. Trying to fill the minutes.

Now that I am here, I find it quite the opposite. There is TOO MUCH to do. Please think in other directions than merely entertaining these people. Entertainment is cool. I'd love to travel, but cannot afford it. Those things are momentary and short lived.

I don't even think of it as giving. For some reason that has a smarmy connotation to me. I kind of think of it as being human. An integral member of the species that covers the planet. I see no reason, barring ill health, that I cannot continue to contribute. I just don't want to be the boss any more.
posted by private_idaho at 5:33 AM on September 3, 2010 [7 favorites]

Two kittens.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:42 AM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

My in-laws used to work in a "Seniors for Seniors" program (now, they could probably use it themselves) as drop-in companion caregivers, specifically to help Senior Seniors keep their pets as long as possible. They loved their work; made good friends; and when the time came for those they cared for to either pass or move to a facility, they helped to find homes for the pets.
posted by peagood at 5:57 AM on September 3, 2010

Assuming you're in the US, they could go through the Master Gardener program at the local county extension, at the end of which they volunteer through the extension to help others with gardening questions and put on gardening programs and whatnot. Most of those who do the program are retired.

Grade schools are always looking for guest readers and reading tutors, especially for the K-2 grades. They'll have to get background checks run, but seniors are a super-valuable resource for schools, especially in impoverished areas or for children who need more one-on-one attention. My grandparents spent years going to read every week at an urban kindergarten in a nearby city and they LOVED it. My district has a lot of retired seniors working as reading tutors ... they basically sit with a child for half an hour a week and the child reads them stories and they help with the hard words.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:06 AM on September 3, 2010

You mean, besides grandchildren? :)

I am with private_idaho. I came in to suggest volunteering. That, and more interaction with people of their own generation.

They are at the point in their lives where their great life experience is a mostly untapped resource. They are also at a point where it's harder to find people their age they can be friends with.

I would suggest finding ways to volunteer in ways that leverage their current interests and skills. I work at a church and there are lots of older people who are involved in many ways. Some plan events and classes for the other older folks in the area. Some visit nursing homes and hospitals. Some serve as volunteer readers at schools and libraries. Some cultured types are docents. Some volunteer with the USO (there should be a rise in demand for that.) Some find, via non-profits like the Alzheimer's Association or Second Family or the Gathering Place, other shut-in elders to provide companionship (and respite for caregivers). The list of potential needs for elders with time and talent is endless.

Also, have you tried to locate and elder center in your area? Not talking day care or anything. Just someplace to go where other people their age gather, usually around a subsidized lunch or breakfast, to play cards, do craft projects, watch TV, and otherwise shoot the breeze. The local United Way chapter runs just such a place in my area. You might want to check yours. Churches also sponsor field trips and events for elders (and, in the case of our church, the county supplies the bus and driver).

And, as for online, do they play cards? In understand that online card gaming is popular with elders who can't find or get to a regular game. My elders didn't play cards so I don't have much direct experience with that, but I hear it's fun for many others.
posted by cross_impact at 6:06 AM on September 3, 2010

My parents spent a few months sitting around but now they both do a ton of volunteer work. My dad likes Meals on Wheels because he gets to get out of the house, drive around and talk to people. There are city boards that are always looking for people and the local schools always need volunteers. I think some of the museums or historical groups look like fun.

They also teach at the community college. Depending on your parents previous careers, there might be an opportunity there. I also see ads for teachers for our city recreation center. If they like the internet, there are always classes teaching seniors and kids how to use the internet.

With all these things come a lot of parties and socializing so they stay really busy. All of their work started by volunteering at the museum. People found out they had the time. If you can get your parents to commit to one thing, I think they’ll be asked to help with a lot of other projects.
posted by iscavenger at 6:30 AM on September 3, 2010

Lots of older volunteers work with the youth groups I see at the state fair - 4-H, Grange, Scouting, etc. Also, Junior Achievement, Sea Cadets, Civil Air Patrol, etc. And, if they're into that sort of thing, I can pretty much guarantee the local Masonic lodge and Eastern Star group are looking for more members.
posted by SMPA at 6:46 AM on September 3, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you very much for all these great suggestions!
posted by teedee2000 at 7:52 AM on September 3, 2010

I think that for older people, the rut is often about only spending time with each other, or about spending lots of time at home. I think suggestions that get them out of the house and interacting with others is great. My retired parents (younger than yours - 64 and 66) got really into things like walking groups and exercise classes and theater-going as soon as they retired.
posted by Kololo at 10:14 AM on September 3, 2010

nthing volunteering.

I grew up in the greater commutable NYC area. Upon retirement, my parents moved to the woods in New England. My father, who I grew up knowing as a fairly grumpy and antisocial gent with very few friends, is now, for all intents and purposes, the mayor of his little town. He's in the Lions club, he goes to the library for people who can't, gardens for not just his own home but for the town library, etcetc. He is now lighthearted and happier than I've ever known him to be. In a way, it's like I have a totally different father than the one with whom I grew up, and I've really enjoyed getting to know this total stranger, who also happens to be my dad.

(My mom's just happy he's out of the house and has something to talk about...)
posted by nevercalm at 11:57 PM on September 3, 2010

« Older Make the Foam Stick to the Wall   |   What Was Your Rehab Experience Like in the First... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.