One of the biggest concerns I have for my residents during a lockdown situation is not only their physical health, but their mental health. That includes their cognitive functioning. Often in a lockdown, activities are reduced and socializing is greatly reduced, this means that our elders are not getting the mental stimulation they are accustomed to. Without that regular cognitive stimulation, they can experience dramatic cognitive decline, and surprisingly quickly.
To combat this risk, I’ve compiled a list of several stimulating activities to get those neurons firing. Of course, please don’t neglect crafts, self care and other activities; you’d be surprised how many cognitive skills you can work on with a simple painting project. This list is for a quick go to, 10 to 15 minute activity for 1 on 1s. I know for myself, switching to 1 on 1 activities instead of groups, means I spend less time with each person. These activities will ensure those precious moments pack a neurological punch.
I’ve broken these up into categories to make things a little more organized. Some categories/activities will be most appropriate for assisted living and some more appropriate for those more severe residents, I think it’s important I put out as many resources as I can for all situations. Just like in my other Lockdown Activities posts, I’ve included as many links to resources as I can (none are affiliate links at this time), so if you have a resource to go with any of these activities or any ideas you’d like to add, please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can add them here for all of us to share
1. Flash Card Games
There are so many activities you can do with a simple set of flash cards. I used to teach Special Education, so this is definitely one of those activities that I have found to be a great carry over.
- Matching – great for more severe residents, think memory care or partially visually impaired. I have one resident that is mentally sharp as a tack but her vision is very deteriorated. I explained to her about the need to stimulate the brain through using the vision she currently has (much like blind people are stimulated by lights, it produces happy hormones and makes neuron connections) and she loves to know that she is doing something healthy for her brain. You can play the traditional way – lay out several face down and try to find the matches which incorporates a memory skill or for more severe residents I show them one card and lay out 2 to 3 other options, then ask them to find the match, if that is too complicated take away an option. If that is still too complicated, I recommend the next game…
- Same or Different – I show the resident 2 cards and ask are these the same? or different? If the resident is fairly talkative, I might ask what makes them different? color? size? shape? or how could we make them look the same?
- Go Together – I have a set of cards I found at Dollar Tree with Winnie the Pooh on them that are specifically for this purpose and they are fabulous. One side of the card is half a picture and the other side is an object. It’s 2 activities in one, a puzzle and a go together game. To get a picture of what this game is like here is an example: I lay down 3 cards of objects: a hammer, a hairbrush and a toothbrush I hold up a card showing a tube of toothpaste. “which picture goes with my toothpaste?” The resident should point to the toothbrush. Occasionally they may point to the wrong card, I usually make a joke or make it silly – “you are so silly! we can’t put toothpaste on a hairbrush! Let’s take that one out, now which one do you think?”
- Questions – For memory care or severe residents, I would show pictures of common objects such as a fan, chair, table, fork, etc., then ask as many questions as I can about that object – what room do you find this in? what color is it? is it big or small? what is it used for? what are you doing when you use it? etc. For my assisted living residents, I have pictures from magazines or antiques I found online and ask them if they remember them or know what they were used for, etc.
2. Simple No – Bake Cooking
This incorporates so many skills into such a fun activity, reading, following directions, measuring, communicating, etc. If they can independently, have them read the recipe to tell you what steps to take or better yet, pair them up (if you can) with a partner. I have a whole slew of no-bake recipes on my Pinterest Board linked below. I’m not a big cook so I had shied away from cooking activities in the past, but it is literally one of their most favorite activities!!! It’s great for all ability levels also.
There are so many of my residents that still enjoy reading, so I use a “Mobile Library” cart for independent reading. I also have a lot of residents that are unable to read independently anymore, either due to vision impairment or cognitive impairment. Some of their favorite items to read, or be read to…
- Bible Study/Devotionals
- Novels – especially mystery novels, mine LOVE these
- Short Stories – I find a lot of great ones from https://www.rd.com/true-stories/ or any of the Chicken Noodle Soup Books (they are at Dollar Tree now!!!)
- Dear Abby – this always prompts a fun conversation
- Jokes – also found on https://www.rd.com/jokes/
- Would You Rather Prompts
5. Group Reading
This is also an activity borrowed from my teaching days. Under our Lockdown policy, I can have small gatherings of about 3, so this is perfect. This can be a fun activity for any ability level, I just change the content. For my memory care or low cognitively functioning residents, I use easy reader books from Dollar Tree ( https://www.dollartree.com/discover-the-fascinating-world-educational-readers/251882 ) the subjects are still interesting for adults but presented in a large print and shortened format my memory care can digest without frustration. For my assisted living crew, they like to do it in the form of a Book Club, right now we are reading a mystery novel.
Great opportunity to help them stay busy and feel needed. Never underestimate the power of purpose. Keep things positive and upbeat. I usually come in with some towels or socks to fold, and say “I’m swamped with paperwork today, do you think you can help me fold this laundry to save time?”. They can also pass out mail or independent activities (one of mine does my library cart in the mornings for me) – keep in mind some of these activities might not be appropriate if your facility is on full quarantine where there is no interaction between residents. Lockdown at my facility means there are no illnesses in house, we just don’t have any visitors or large group activities, so please follow and consider your policies and current situation.
This is a favorite game for my crew. To make things more fun, I made them little paddles that say FACT on one side and FAKE on the other. I read some “facts” and they have to decide if they think they are true or not. I found my trivia book at Five Below https://www.fivebelow.com/books/the-totally-awesome-book-of-useless-information.html
I will have a whole separate list with more details and more resources soon, because this category is a post within itself. Just to get you started on some ideas:
- Guess Who
- Don’t Break the Ice
- Gone Fishing
Sorting button boxes or objects by color, size, category or shape. This is a great activity for memory care, or if you have some assisted living residents that have any fine motor skill difficulties. I have a bag of pompoms from the craft section at walmart, I have them use some giant tweezers (found at Dollar Tree) to pick up the pompoms and sort them by color. This is a wonderful fine motor skill activity. I always explain the purpose of all my activities to all my residents, we have all developed a rapport and they know that none of my activities are without purpose even when they seem silly sometimes.
9. Easy Science Experiments
This is a new activity that I’m getting into with my crew, but they seem to really enjoy it. I have linked my Pinterest board below to give you some ideas, they really liked the egg and the match one! Pinterest : https://www.pinterest.com/lovelaughandbingo/science/
10. Guessing Games
I have two versions of this game. For the first option, I bring the object or a picture of an antique and ask them to guess what it was used for or demonstrate it.
The second option is a little more silly and fun, it’s Guess What’s In The Bag! This one is really fun to play and usually gets a good giggle. I just use a pillow case for my bag because it was what I had on hand. Some objects I’ve put in there have been a kitchen gadget (not sharp!), a sandal, various snacks (they have to guess to get it!) and random knick knacks/figurines.
Hope these give you some ideas for your residents! I’ll be adding photos as I get them, I just wanted to go ahead and get the info out there! Enjoy! Please comment with your ideas!