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Best Practices for Activities Professionals

What do you think of when you hear the term activity? Maybe something that someone does for fun? An activity is anything that a person does in their daily life. These can be activities that make them feel valued and appreciated. They can be things they do to care for themselves, for fun, or for personal growth.

Activities are sometimes thought to keep seniors “busy” and pass the time. Meaningful activities provide so much more. They allow older individuals to thrive at their highest ability for as long as possible. They can also increase quality of life and even reduce depression and negative behaviors.

Activities for seniors in the home or long-term care are best when they:

  • Reflect a person’s interests and lifestyle.
  • Are enjoyable and meaningful.
  • Provide the individual with a sense of belonging and usefulness.
  • Improve health.

Person-Centered Planning

The most important part of planning activities is taking a person-centered approach. This means you must know your audience well. Understand their likes and dislikes. Be aware of specific religious or cultural practices that they follow. If you are not sure about something, ask them.

When planning an activity, you should think:

  • What does an ideal day for this person look like?
  • What activities do they enjoy?
  • Where do they like to spend their time?
  • What are the times they nap or sleep?
  • Do they like to watch TV shows or movies?
  • When do they prefer to eat meals?
  • Who are the people they enjoy spending time with?
  • Are there any limits on what they can or will do?

Some activities are more likely to be successful with a group of people. Other activities are more appropriate for an individual to perform on their own. Talk to your audience about their wishes. You should invite every individual to be part of deciding their own activity plan.

Meaningful Activities

Meaningful activities can be formal activities, such as joining a group bingo game. They can be more informal too, such as a phone call with a lifelong friend. Remember to:

  • Do things with individuals rather than for them, when possible.
  • Focus on maintaining the skills a person has, not on learning new skills.
  • Encourage participation.

You may need to change some activities based on how the person can participate. Some activities may not fit with someone’s cultural or spiritual beliefs, values, or customs. If you are not sure, ask them.

Let’s explore the different types of activities that you can plan.

Productive and Self-Care Activities

These activities provide a sense of purpose and belonging. They allow the person to feel valued and self-sufficient. You can create these opportunities through activities of daily living, such as:

  • Meal preparation
  • Setting the table
  • Dusting and cleaning
  • Stacking or sorting items
  • Gardening
  • Folding clothes

You can also create productive activities that relate to an individual’s past work experiences. For example, a carpenter may enjoy sorting through a box of nuts and bolts. A retired office worker may enjoy folding flyers for a local community service project.

The key to these types of activities is to ensure that the activity has value and serves a purpose. Even personal care is meaningful when structured correctly. That means you encourage the person to participate in the activity and work with them.


Some individuals have trouble remembering what they just said or saw on TV, but they do remember the details of events or people in the distant past. Reminiscing, which is remembering the past, can be a very valuable activity.

Asking questions is a good way to reminisce. Start with simple questions, such as their favorite food when they were younger. Avoid asking for detailed memories, at least at first. This may frustrate a person who has trouble remembering things.

You can reminisce about any topic from the person’s history. Ask them about their family members. Ask where they lived. Talk about the school they attended and who their friends were. You can also ask if they:

  • Have a favorite holiday.
  • Had a pet.
  • Like fixing things.
  • Were in the military.
  • Have a photo album to share.

Asking questions helps make a connection with the past. It can bring back wonderful memories and pleasant feelings. Keep in mind that the activity is for the person to remember things about their own life, not to hear all about yours. Only share your own stories if the participant asks you to.

Leisure Activities

Leisure activities should be based on the individual’s desires and abilities. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Playing games
  • Completing puzzles
  • Making crafts
  • Playing music or singing
  • Talking with others
  • Taking a walk outdoors
  • Working in a garden
  • Rocking in a chair

Not all leisure activities require the person to be active. They also include things they do to rest and relax, such as:

  • Listening to music
  • Watching a movie or TV show
  • Reading
  • Holding or petting an animal
  • Watching birds or fish
  • Watching people
  • Taking a bath
  • Napping

Social Activities

Social activity involves interacting with others. Some people prefer to be alone and quiet most of the time. You should respect that. However, it is important to remember that some amount of social time is still important.

What can you do to provide social activity? It can be as simple as talking with someone. You may invite their close friend over to have lunch. You might even show them how to communicate with family and friends using a new phone app.

Group activities also provide a great opportunity for socialization. For example, you might plan a weekly card-playing club or class. You can find many creative ways to bring people with the same interests together.

Art and Music

Music and art can bring immense pleasure. Both encourage communication and self-expression. They can have positive effects on anxiety, depression, and pain relief.

Think of all the ways you enjoy art and music. Do you ever sing in the shower or dance to the radio? Do you like to make crafts? The individuals you care for may enjoy some of these experiences, too.

You can share art and music with others by:

  • Singing to them, or asking them to sing to you.
  • Painting or drawing with them.
  • Listening to them play an instrument.
  • Watching them sew or create something out of clay, or doing it with them.
  • Finding their favorite radio station.
  • Encouraging them to dance or clap with music.

Exercise and Movement

An exercise program provides movement to maintain or improve health. Activities such as walking, swimming, and even dancing can help with sleep. Chair yoga can help improve functional ability and depression. The important thing is to encourage movement.

Some simple exercises include:

  • Shrugging shoulders
  • Raising and lowering arms to the front and the side
  • Bending knees and elbows
  • Twisting the upper body to the left and right

Remember to follow the plan of care when planning exercise. If you are ever unsure about a person’s activity, ask for guidance.

Encouraging Involvement

The first step in encouraging participation in an activity is to think about the surroundings. Promote environmental factors that will enhance participation, such as good lighting and a comfortable temperature.

Look at the immediate environment to see if it provides opportunities for people to engage in an activity of interest. For example:

  • Do they have a colorful fish tank to watch?
  • Is there a bird feeder that they can help refill when it is empty?
  • Are there books and magazines available to borrow?

Offer activities that people will enjoy. Be flexible, creative, and positive. Smile! Encourage everyone to participate. Tell them that you will participate with them.

Never force anyone to participate in an activity. If someone initially resists an activity, you may need to break complex tasks into simple steps for them. For example:

  • Have the person fold the flyers first. Then put them into mailing envelopes.
  • Read and follow one step of a recipe at a time. Then move on to the next step.

You may also need to help them by getting the activity started. You might:

  • Show them how to participate.
  • Do the activity with them, if appropriate.

The key is to match each activity with the person’s desires and abilities. Ask them what they like to do and how they like to spend their time.

Meaningful activities can help people thrive at their highest ability for as long as possible, increase their quality of life, and feel valued and appreciated. When planning activities, you should always take a person-centered approach and encourage participation by matching each activity with individuals’ desires and abilities. You can truly make a difference in others’ lives by encouraging engaging activity!



Fall Risk Management — Zones of Opportunity

Lack of physical activity can lead to reduced strength and balance among seniors, which can make them more susceptible to falls. This webinar explains some of the risk factors as well as evidence-based interventions that can minimize the risk of falling.


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