Help me think of new activities to enrich a senior citizen's twilight years.
March 29, 2011 1:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a few fun, interesting afternoon activities to do with a 95-year-old relative. She can't see well, can't hear well, has some short-term memory problems and is on a budget. But she's game for anything.

The memory problems are more pronounced in the last few months, but she's pretty steady on her feet and we do have access to a good wheelchair. She used to like walking through the mall, but seems to have lost interest in that.

We've been to all the museums, and plan to re-visit the natural history museum when the exhibit changes. In another month, the Public Gardens will open and she'll enjoy that. She can't hear lectures (and doesn't have the memory for them) and can't see movies (and again, memory). She's never been much of a reader, but we are trying a few audiobooks, which might open some new avenues.

She enjoys going for drives, but can't hear well enough to hold a long conversation without seeing body language/reading lips. We always get a coffee at the end of the afternoon, but I don't want to spend three hours sitting in a coffee shop.

Any suggestions are appreciated.
posted by tempest in a teapot to Human Relations (34 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you?
posted by desjardins at 1:44 PM on March 29, 2011

Response by poster: Halifax, Nova Scotia.
posted by tempest in a teapot at 1:48 PM on March 29, 2011

Does she like to eat? It might be fun to take her out for a really fancy meal, if it's in your budget.
posted by something something at 1:48 PM on March 29, 2011

How about a spa day? I know there are massage therapists who specialize in working with elderly clients. And just getting hair and nails done could be fun as well.
posted by Jess the Mess at 1:48 PM on March 29, 2011

Something with music? Even if she can't hear well, she could hear a bit? A museum exhibit with large paintings?

I bet, though, that anything you do with her will be greatly appreciated. A simple walk through the park with a stop on a bench for some lunch would probably be wonderful.
posted by dawkins_7 at 1:50 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ooh sorry, i forgot about the "on a budget" part, but you might be able to swing one of those things.
posted by Jess the Mess at 1:50 PM on March 29, 2011

When I worked in a nursing home, some of our residents really enjoyed going to a park and seeing kids play. It usually prompted conversations about their own childhoods or their children, which their relatives liked hearing about.

High school or community band concerts might be another option and would be loud enough to let her enjoy them.

Are there any nearby arboretums or botanical gardens nearby? Even a big greenhouse could make a fun trip--she could pick out a new plant, if that's appropriate, and the shopping part could be fun. Watch out for the hoses they have across the aisles, though.
posted by BlooPen at 1:54 PM on March 29, 2011

Or how about a trip to a casino (I see there's one in downtown Halifax). You could blow $20 on the slots and then have a nice lunch. I know very few seniors who don't LOVE to gamble.
posted by Jess the Mess at 1:55 PM on March 29, 2011

What is the extent of her memory problems? My grandmother has Alzheimer's, and at worst loses conversations mid-stream. It seems she enjoys company as much as anything, as different settings can confuse her (if we're away from her complex, she asks where she is, or if she knows where she is, she might ask how she's getting back). It doesn't sound like your relative is that far gone, but keep in mind how much she retains, as pleasant conversation and reminiscing about family might be a fantastic day for her.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:58 PM on March 29, 2011

My 101 year old grandfather can't always hear well, and between that and memory problems he usually doesn't have much interest in following group conversations at family reunions these days. But man, does he enjoy watching his little great grandkids play - they're much easier to follow, and more upbeat than the rest of us. I've read that Japanese nursing homes are trying to locate next to daycare centers for the same reason.

So expanding on that park idea, could incorporate not just people watching, but kid-watching? You could make a stop by a park with an awesome busy playground, sit on a bench and talk while watching the kiddos. (Assuming she doesn't have an unmentioned hatred of children, that is.)
posted by deludingmyself at 1:58 PM on March 29, 2011

Since you're in Halifax, once the weather gets nicer, would she enjoy a boat cruise of some sort? I don't know whether she'd be too unstable walking on the boat, but some combination of her walking and the wheelchair could work. A couple hour tour for two shouldn't cost very much.
posted by zachlipton at 2:03 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe not full-on, full-length movies, but film shorts? Something like the Screen Snapshots series, or a compilation you can pause at any time.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:09 PM on March 29, 2011

How about spending a few afternoons recording her family memories?
posted by brujita at 2:15 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Photograph her. All over the city.
posted by JanetLand at 2:19 PM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

I should expand that a bit. I was thinking of this post, and how much fun it was for both of them. You don't have to dress anybody up like a superhero, but just the staging of fun scenes to photograph could be a terrific day for both of you.
posted by JanetLand at 2:22 PM on March 29, 2011

Is there a zoo there? Or a pet store? I wonder if you could talk to your local shelter about taking a dog for a walk once a week or so. Animals cheer people up and they don't care if you don't hear well or can't remember things.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 2:23 PM on March 29, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. These are all great ideas. I'm glad a few of you mentioned the kids-playing idea. I can certainly arrange that, and I could probably borrow a friend's baby for the afternoon, too.

A little more background: Her memory loss is hard to pinpoint, but it's all short-term. Some things she remembers, others not. Repetition helps. It hasn't harmed her conversation at all, she's great fun to talk to and has a lot of wonderful stories (she's a Halifax Explosion survivor, her parents were Lebanese immigrants).

Re: the harbor cruise idea, there's no reason we can't take the ferry across for an afternoon expedition right away. The greenhouses should open in the next week or so, so that would be a fun expedition, too.
posted by tempest in a teapot at 2:23 PM on March 29, 2011

A petting zoo or an animal shelter, where she can touch some (docile and calm) animals might be fun. My grandmother and I just spent a few minutes watching cute dog and cat videos on Youtube.

We don't do too many outings, but other things my grandma (very similar age, medical conditions, and m enjoys are holding babies who come to visit her, helping me cook things, especially rolling cookie dough in her hands, looking at old family pictures and talking about the past, playing simple card and board games, and reading the most outrageous tabloid newspapers we can find. I read them to her in an EXTREMELY shocked tone of voice, the most scandalous the better. Personal ads are also good.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:23 PM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

Sorry, that was supposed to be "very similar age, medical conditions and mobility limitations."

Borrowing a friend's baby sounds like a GREAT idea.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:24 PM on March 29, 2011

My grandmother passed recently, but one activity she really enjoyed later in her life (she was blind and had severe mobility issues) was being around children. She couldn't babysit, but she liked to tag along with me while I did.

She also enjoyed being around while food was prepared. She'd pretty much lost her appetite, but she loved the smells. And she loved to be a kind of armchair quarterback for the cook (usually me). We had great visits around cooking because the floodgates of her memories would just open up, triggered by smell I guess.

Also, she enjoyed cuddling. Babies, dogs, her great-grandchildren (the ones who weren't afraid of her; no need to scare the little ones), it didn't matter. She craved physical affection, but was way too reserved to mention it.

She liked it one day when I organized our visit around a theme. In our case, it was a farm where we used to live. I took her some biscuits made from the recipe of the lady of the farmhouse. We went to a dairy to visit the cows and take photos. Then later, we made butter out of some cream I bought there.

If I'd had more time, I would have taken her to the dairy again. She just blossomed there.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 2:40 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

An idea from the Mamika site: crash some weddings or funerals. If they are at a church, the public is allowed to come in and sit at the back to watch. You probably can't attend the wedding receptions, but lots of funerals have a lunch afterward at the parish hall next door. At the last funeral I went to, one of the ladies at the luncheon said she goes to a lot of these, since she can't really get around anymore and she lived very close to the church. She was a longtime parish member, so even if she didn't know the deceased or their family personally, she knew a lot of the people who attended the service.

Another idea from S'Tella Fabula's post: animals. In my town, the animal shelter likes volunteers to come in and play with the cats or take the dogs for a walk.
posted by CathyG at 2:47 PM on March 29, 2011

Not to stomp all over the animal shelter idea, but I would contact the animal shelter in person beforehand to see if it's OK to stop in and play with the animals. I used to volunteer at an animal shelter, and I had to go through some training before I was allowed to interact with the cats by myself (I was in the cat room).

We would get people in all the time who saw the Animal Shelter as a Petting Zoo, and and while some are OK with that, ours was not, particularly since we had a highly contagious feline disease that was going around. And I had to tell visitors that no, they can't touch the animals at all unless they were serious about adopting.

I'd hate to have her and you head out to a shelter looking for some animal interaction, just to find that it's not allowed. A Petting Zoo might be a much better option.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:08 PM on March 29, 2011

Seconding the food preparation idea; let her teach you some family recipes? (And possible bonus...Lebanese food!)
posted by Morrigan at 3:36 PM on March 29, 2011

Most old people I've known love to be listened to. Get a tape recorder or video camera and ask questions. Where did you meet Grandpa, who was your 1st crush, what was your house like when you were a kid, etc. She has your heritage in her head, and you have the chance to hear it. Cooking together is often a treat.
posted by Mom at 3:41 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honestly a few of these ideas sound fairly... staid. Our nana is 91, and while she adores her great grandkids, if I wanted to book an afternoon activity for her I'd take her to a wine tasting!
posted by DarlingBri at 4:00 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is there a brownbag concert series or some other free, mid-day live music in your area?
posted by juliapangolin at 4:12 PM on March 29, 2011

My grandmother is very opinionated, and she loves to eat. So one fun thing we do is to take her out for meals, which she then reviews (with our help) on Yelp. She has become a very popular contributor--I think because at her age, she really tells it like it is. It's especially fun taking her to inexpensive ethnic places where she can try new things. And you should see how servers and other patrons fawn over a cute little old gal when told that she's going to be reviewing her meal on Yelp. The attention, and occasional free pastries, is the best part.
posted by Scram at 6:27 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

She can take part in a tandem hang-gliding flight, if you don't think she'd freak out mid flight. Basically, a professional controls the glider, the passenger is in a little sleeping-bag type strappy thing, both are in pyramidal frame with wheels under a big hang glider, the whole thing is towed up by an ultralight plane, then the tow rope is released and she glides quietly down to earth with an excellent view and maybe some wing-vantage photos. Not cheap, but fun and not too loud.

It's kind of a wild idea, but outside the box! I know you can do this in Nag's Head, NC, for sure -- even paraplegics can do it. Maybe these guys can refer you to somebody. Note: it may be that tandem flights need to be "training" to make the licensing work out.
posted by amtho at 6:28 PM on March 29, 2011

What about something like flying a kite when the weather gets warm enough?
posted by annsunny at 6:46 PM on March 29, 2011

It's somewhat odd, but... My (somewhat younger) mother really loved using Google Maps and streetview to "visit" the house she grew up in, and tour around Rome. I did the actual pointing and clicking, she did the remembering.
posted by underflow at 9:09 PM on March 29, 2011

Ahhh, (on re-reading) she has bad eyesight. My apologies, it's less likely to be fun.
posted by underflow at 9:14 PM on March 29, 2011

How about the Alexander Keith's brewery tour? Kind of cheesy but it was fun.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:59 PM on March 29, 2011

Find a nice wheelchair accessible trail. Maybe one in the woods or a natural park. Phone the conservation areas or provincial parks and ask them to recommend one or two. Pick a nice warm, not hot, day. Try to pick a time of year where the bugs aren't too bad and make sure she has a wide brimmed sun hat if it's sunny. If she doesn't see too well or hear too well, her sense of smell should still be okay. The smell of fresh air and nature might be a welcome change to her. You can describe things to her ( that she may not see or hear) and let her imagination take over. Birds, plants, trees, maybe some waterfowl in a pond or lake. Talk about frogs and snakes to see her reaction and maybe get her reminiscing about something she might have story about from her previous years. Even getting close to the ocean or a lake with waves would be great for her (waves can get pretty loud). She'll likely hear them and remember what it was like years ago as a kid on a beach. Also I like the idea of asking questions as was mentioned above. I used to do this with my aunts and uncles. Ask about her youth, where she worked, her family, that sort of thing. Show a genuine interest in her life. Tell her your taking notes ( and do it) about what she's telling you. Take a small picnic with a thermos but don't tell her until its snack/lunch time. Keep her guessing about whats coming next. Taking her picture is a great idea that was mentioned before also. If you do something like this, walk slow and describe everything you see as you see it. Make small things you/we take for granted, into a big event for her. But keep in mind the length of the experience might seem short to you, but it'll be long for her. And don't forget to give her a nice hug, just because. And take photos.
posted by Taurid at 10:45 PM on March 29, 2011

Response by poster: Gambling and wine tastings and woodland picnics — her Spring and Summer are going to be packed. Thanks so much, everyone. This was terrific help.
posted by tempest in a teapot at 5:55 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

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