Finding activities for elderly with vision loss can certainly be a challenge, but they can also be quite creative. I became caregiver for my Dad and had to learn. Fast.
These types of activities for seniors were challenging to find. Dad had both serious vision and hearing loss, and I had also working with others. I had to quickly create and gather some good ideas. Dad became willing to try just about anything to alleviate boredom. Especially if useful.
Dad’s vision loss was not total, but it was severe due to advanced macular degeneration, which is very common. He was at first able to make many interesting adjustments for himself, and successfully lived alone until age 93 ½ until it became too severe. He especially needed contrast and strong lighting, which is very important for activities for elderly involving vision loss.
See our page on macular degeneration help – our family’s tips for daily life. Every state in the U.S. has free programs for people with vision loss. We participated in these, and a rep came to our home to set things up, bring free equipment and gifts, and they also offer free training and activities for elderly to manage life more independently.
On that page we discuss using large print items, a reading machine, books on tape, TV Ears earphones, a huge screen TV (even of value to Dad), listening to music, being read to and narrated to, etc. These include ongoing activities that a person can do somewhat independently when you’re not around. So we will not cover those basic types of activities for elderly on this page.
We will also not discuss working with their hands and continuing hobbies that people may already know how to do. But learning a new hobby might be a good possibility, and you can see if any work for you from our page at finding a hobby.
The type of activities for elderly that you choose will depend on other factors too – firstly, how severely their vision has been affected; to what degree they can see, if at all. Also, their ability and mobility levels, how active they generally are, use of hands, use of other senses (i.e., hearing and touch), as well as mental clarity. You can see which ideas will work for you, and how you might change them to suit your needs.
Most of these activities are geared towards those who have at least a little vision remaining and are not totally blind.
We’ll also point you to other areas of our web site with more elderly activities that might be suitable, with extra help of course. Other senses -- hearing, smell and touch can come into play. Dad became very adept at feeling with his hands.
Several of these activities for elderly will depend upon whether you are visiting someone at a care campus, in their home, or if you’re doing the project at your own home. So think of what you might be able to do to modify them accordingly.
It does take patience to find and do activities for elderly who have vision loss, and to assist those you care for to stay busy. But it does help keep boredom to a minimum. And it’s satisfying and very much appreciated. Plus, you’ll have some fun too.
We’ll include both useful activities, and those just for fun.
Whether you’re helping someone at home or at a campus, see which of these activities for elderly are suitable for you. And remember that kids also enjoy helping elderly with a little fun as well!
A perfect game to do with young children is to fit large puzzle type shapes (including alphabet letters) into their holes, as this is an activity by touch. Verbal word and guessing games are also a hit. (You can also check out our page about more elderly activities to do with kids).
If you’re interested in crafts – We have many crafts on our site to try out. Of course, elderly with vision loss probably will not be able to do them on their own, but those with moderate loss can certainly participate in making aspects of the craft and putting it together, either with a class, with family, or friends.
Take a look at our “craft central” page at Easy Craft Ideas and see what might work for you. Crafts are some of the most favorite activities for elderly, and those with vision loss can participate in many of them at some level.
A favorite craft, for instance, is working with those lumpy, bumpy gourds which can be turned into imaginative characters and creatures. In many parts of the country, different kinds of squashes and gourds can be found in grocery stores throughout the year.
Elderly with vision loss will be able to feel the interesting textures. These crafts make interesting activities for elderly who rely on touch. Dad was also able to see the basic colors and unusual shapes of the gourds. As he helped me decorate them, although he didn’t see many of the details, he could detect basics. We put them on display, and he enjoyed telling people how he helped. Get lots of ideas at Gourd Craft Ideas. They can be decorated for just about any holiday or occasion that you can imagine.
Watching Birds – Activities for elderly can also involve movement. If you can get a bird feeder or bird bath very close to a window like we did, and have a comfy chair near the window, many people may be able to see well enough to watch the birds come and go, can see general shapes, sizes and movement, can watch them hop about, and flutter; as well as hear them chirping. This can provide relaxing entertainment on one’s own, once set up. Dad was able to see out the window at a feeder and bird bath that were set up very near, and loved to spend time watching them.
Learning bird calls – Several activities for elderly with vision loss can involve other senses such as hearing. There are many CDs and other audio means available, including from the library or books on tape, to listen to and identify various bird calls.
This can be done on one’s own, as operating a listening device can be quite simple. Later, elderly can be taken for an outing to a park or preserve, and it’s fun for them to use their new skill. Also, if they are watching birds in the yard or at their window, they can practice identifying bird calls.
More sounds – Spending a little time each day listening to sounds from nature (from the library, store or perhaps books on tape) on an audio device is a very relaxing and independent activity. Those who have spent time by the sea or the Great Lakes would enjoy ocean sounds, as well as a bubbling brook. Again, chirping birds along with crickets, frogs and such, are other fun sounds. You can also get noises of trains and city streets for those who are used to the urban life.
Learn to meditate – I do this every day myself. There are many methods to choose from, and simple meditation is great for the heart and nervous system, is calming, and promotes a more positive attitude. Any activities for elderly that help with calmness and contentment are valuable. And there are so many meditation techniques, and many are on CDs or listening devices.
Anyone can learn, including from a teacher (who can even come to a campus and teach or volunteer with a small group) or with audio instruction. Or have an outing and take your elderly loved one to a class with you. Even simply sitting comfortably, doing deep breathing, and focusing on one’s breath is effective. Once learned, it is a pleasant way to pass time on one’s own. Dad does a lot of contemplation every day, and it's partly why he has such a calm, wonderful attitude.
A little pampering – Just about everyone still cares about how they look and also enjoys being a bit pampered. So why not do both and offer an occasional time block of spa-like relaxation. These activities for elderly are much appreciated and also calming.This is a good project for volunteers (older kids and teens are very good at this) and family members to help with. Here are a few ideas…
Dad loves to have someone come and give him a bubbly foot bath (one of those little electric devices from any store), a lotion foot massage and hand massage, and toenail and fingernail clipping (when possible). He also loves to have my brother give him an electric shave (to touch up what he does himself). And always looks forward to his haircut.
Ladies enjoy not only getting their hair done, but also a manicure, (I know a feisty group that loves to have really bright nail polish, have a little flower painted on a nail or two, or rhinestone put into the nail polish too). They may or may not be able to see all the detail, perhaps color, but they know the manicurist is giving them something especially artistic. Again, perfect for teens to help with.
Pedicures are another favorite. A make-up makeover is fabulous too. All of these pampering activities for elderly people really help boost morale. And if they have a group party, special dinner or occasion to go to later, all the more fun.
Being read to – Dad loved it when I read him books, the bible, the newspaper, and the medical newsletter he gets in the mail. When he was in assisted living, there were also volunteers who would read to the residents on a regular basis, as well as students and scouts that would come over from local schools to visit, including to read. If a child doesn’t quite know what to do while visiting someone, reading to them is usually most welcome. Activities for elderly that help stimulate the mind and memory keep them alert and interested in life.
Metal detecting – Yes, this can be done by elderly with some vision loss, including from a wheelchair. And the sound of successfully finding metal is exciting! We had an expert contribute to a special page all about this. Go to Treasure Hunting With Metal Detectors.
Fingerpainting with kids – Since touch is an important asset to those with vision loss, the feel of moving luscious fingerpaint around on paper is really lovely. If you use contrasting colors such as blue and yellow, most people will be able to generally tell what they’re doing. Plus, doing an art project with children is in itself delightful and helps entertain them as well.
Painting – I know as an artist and former art teacher, that if anyone has a moderate amount of vision loss, they can still paint. Especially if someone has painted in the past. They needn’t stop, just adjust their style perhaps; and people can learn it as a new activity as well. Painting activities for elderly are expressive art, rather than something realistic.
Painting can be done with both a brush or a palette knife, especially if they had painted in the past. And if you lay the paint on thickly, it is also textural and can be felt as well as seen when dry.
All you need are inexpensive canvas boards (or small stretched canvases) from a craft store, basic colors of acrylic paints (be sure you get colors that go well together, with both lights and darks because contrast is easier to see), some larger sized brushes, and a couple palette knives. I always just use plastic picnic plates as my palette, with a couple layers of damp paper towel on top to keep the paint moist, then I squirt the paint on the palette. You can also just use the paint directly from right out of the tube if you’d prefer.
Put on some music, and let it inspire the movements of your brush and/or knife. Music coupled with art are inspiring activities for elderly. With moderate vision loss, the painter can still see where the paint is going, and can detect the contrasting colors (although probably not the full detail of how it looks). Paints may mix together on your canvas as you go, creating interesting new colors and effects. The point is expression and doing a pleasing activity. One person can do a few, or do it with a group, and consider putting them on display afterwards. A display of paintings done by visually impaired artists really does make a statement.
Working with clay – Any type of art project that can be felt makes great activities for elderly with vision loss. Clay is a favorite. Take a ball of clay, plunge the thumbs into the middle and carefully feel as you pinch and thin out the sides forming a little pot. It takes focus and is fun. It can be done in a group or solo. An instructor or activities director can also help coach on how thick or thin to make the walls of the pot, because when they’re the right thickness, they can then be fired.
Most towns have a pottery class, or a school with a kiln and may be willing to help the participants glaze and fire their pots when dry. Or just play around with hobby clay from a craft store for fun. Again, kids will love to play along.
Dipping chocolate – Who doesn’t love chocolate. We have lots of ideas on how to make dipping chocolate the easy way, and they’re wonderful activities for elderly. My Dad was perfectly able to help me with this, especially using white chocolate on the very large dark pretzel sticks, because of the contrasting colors. But he also helped with traditional brown chocolate too, and did fine. After dipping, he could add candy sprinkles. The best part, of course, was after the chocolate set, he could eat what he made.
The other favorite was learning how to make chocolate covered strawberries. Both projects can be done just about any time of year, but especially for holidays and special occasions.
Help with a centerpiece – We have a page that shows many ideas for affordable centerpieces that can be changed out for just about any occasion or time of year. Perfect when having a party or get-together too. These are projects that participants will probably not be able to do alone, but can certainly contribute to the making of.
Helping with parties and gifts – These also help people contribute to activities being planned by family or senior campuses. If you are using crepe paper streamers, elderly can certainly learn by feel to crimp along the edges of the streamers so they’re fancy. Likewise, they can help create paper chains (which kids also love to do).
When wrapping gifts, Dad was able to do them himself by feel (and for us, perfection just did not matter). At least our elderly can help put on the tape and tie the ribbons and bows. There are many more vision loss activities for elderly that you’ll be able to think of when it comes to entertaining and parties. (We’ll also list a few fun food projects below).
If you’re familiar with care of elderly, many folks do still desire something meaningful to do; something with which they can contribute. Dad’s favorites include working with food and daily tasks. With some of the projects you’ll need to be on hand to set up and/or supervise.
Sorting foods – Sometimes I actually “set up” a sorting activity for Dad. (And this can be something you bring along if visiting, because it truly can be a help to you, and activity for elderly). For example, if I was making a soup with pasta or various beans, I buy (or put together) a large bag of assorted sizes and shapes of the items.
Say pasta. Thoroughly washing hands is the first step. I then provide 4 or 5 containers at the table, so he can feel and take out the items in the bag and place them in their containers. Sometimes the sizes and shapes are more subtle, so he enjoys taking his time to figure it out. Especially the beans. He can sometimes tell if the bean is dark or white, and that would help.
We also do sorting with large bags of those pre-cut veggie mixes: broccoli, baby carrots, cauliflower, etc. Those are also fun. Cauliflower, being white, is easy to identify.
Grating – Grating from a block of cheese, a large thick carrot, parsnip or turnip, large beet, potato, etc. is another good activity – and you’ll have to decide if it’s right your you. You’ll need to watch (and instruct) that they need to stop grating before the item gets too small so that fingers are not hurt. Dad is extremely careful by nature and can always tell when to stop, so it’s never been a problem. But it’s important to be watchful anyway.
Making smoothies – Delicious and healthy as well! This is a quick project to do, very easy, with a fun outcome! All you need is a blender, food processor, or extractor. And your ingredients. If you are visiting someone, you may be able to bring the machine to their residence, along with the ingredients (which can be simple). It also provides a yummy snack to share while there.
I give Dad a banana to break into little pieces and drop in, and have him fill a cup or half a cup with berries of some sort (frozen are OK). I also may have him peel a (seedless) tangerine or orange and break it into sections. Whatever works for you. He dumps it all into the blender. I measure out the milk, almond milk, or juice, and he add it in.
Sometimes we add a little ice cream. He likes yoghurt, although I don’t. Sometimes we add a scoop of natural protein powder from the health food store. He presses the button for the blender, and I signal when he turns it off. (He also likes any activity that makes some noise that he can hear, since he also has severe hearing loss). Then we drink up and enjoy!
Preparing fruit – Pieces of fruit are used in all kinds of recipes, many which make great activities for elderly with vision losee. Helping with fruit (along with healthy nibbling) are great activities for elderly to help pass time and be useful. Obviously, anyone with vision impairment should not be handling a sharp knife. But breaking fruit into chunks or using a table knife is fine.
When I make a pie, fruit cobbler, or fruit or apple crisp, Dad can help. I do the preliminary cutting of the apples, for instance, into basic slices. But they can be further broken into smaller pieces, either by hand or with a dull table knife. He can also help add other ingredients into the bowl, place the fruit into the shell or pan, etc. And the aroma while baking is part of the fun.
Since Dad had been an excellent cook and had many collections of recipes, we often use his and talk about them while we make it. It’s amazing how he remembers just what to do. He also enjoys talking about the get-togethers he’d had with friends and family when serving his recipes. Good for the memory.
Making ice cream – This follows the same system of helping as above as far as helping to add in ingredients. If you use one of those easy electric ice cream makers that take almost no time for it to freeze, it’s a no-brainer. Dad also enjoys this one since he can hear the noise or the machine. Be sure to see our special page on How To Make Ice Cream – The Easy Way. Some of the recipes are my Dad’s – he was champ at homemade ice cream.
Rolling and cutting dough – These are activities for elderly that some can do by feel with perhaps a little assistance. Almost everyone has used a rolling pin in life, and remembers what to do. Plus, it feels nice in the hands. Form the ball of dough, put it down and pat it, and start rolling. It’s easy to feel how thick or thin the dough is getting, but this is where a little help can come in.
After the caregiver puts the dough in a pie pan and trims it, your elderly helper can gently crimp the edges. Helping to bake bread (especially with one of those electric bread makers that just about does it all) along with the aroma is also wonderful.
Or maybe you’re making cookies (again, great aroma). Using a cookie cutter is also easy, and Dad could tell by feel where to place and space it for the next cut. He can also place the dough on the cookie sheet. And, naturally, removed after baking (to eat).
Grinding coffee beans – We love to make fresh coffee. And that means grinding our own beans, which makes the room smell delicious for a long time. This is another project you’ll have to use your own judgment on, as it does involve a grinder with blades. However, since a small measuring cup is used for the beans, and the ground coffee is just poured out without touching anything, it has never posed a problem for us.
It’s something Dad is very confident with, can see well enough to tell what he is doing, and is very careful. And I am always right there. You will have to assess this for yourself.
We always review the steps before beginning, including to not touch the grinder (except to dump it out); only the coffee beans and measuring cup get touched. I set up a bowl with the beans, a scoop, the grinder next to it, and the container to put the ground coffee into. It’s a very simple process, and again, makes a noise loud enough for Dad to enjoy.
Other food activities – There are many other activities for elderly folks centered around helping with food and cooking; things most of them had been so used to as part of daily life. These can include stirring and even mixing with an electric mixer, washing items in the sink or a bowl at the table, mashing, crumbling, and crushing with a rolling pin. Helping to squeeze lemons and oranges (and then drinking the beverages made from them) is an upbeat project. With any of these, the smells, feel of the utensils and food, and familiar routines are very positive experiences.
Helping with the dishes -- Many of us are so used to sticking everything into the dishwasher, hat it may not occur to us that our elderly like to help with dishes. My nearly blind grandmother in her 90s loved drying non-breakable dishes with a dish towel. The family set up a system of hand washing some, and putting them in a dish rack in the sink. Then she would dry them and set them on the adjoining counter to be put away. Perhaps it took a bit more work on the family’s part, but it was worth it.
Polishing -- Dad also likes to sit at the table with a soft cloth and polish the silverware before I put it on the table when we had people over. I explained that this removed any water spots or smudges on them. Totally necessary? No, but the point is, he finds it very enjoyable. He can also fold the napkins and put them in napkin holders when we used them.
Sorting and folding – These activities for elderly are also often used with dementia patients. Folding laundry is a favorite for Dad, and he loves the fresh smell. I make sure to have folding activities several times a week: clothing of all kinds and towels. He even helps me fold large sheets. All of his socks are the same, so he can take them out of the basket and pair them with no problem.
Dad can see the difference between darks and lights, but not between colors; i.e., browns vs. blacks, vs. navy blues, vs. dark grays. If we’re dealing with both black and navy socks, I’ll have to sort those into different piles for him first, and then he pairs and folds. With undergarments, he could feel where the tags are and know if they’re inside out or not. As you may know with vision issues, consistency is important -- including a place for everything, so they can be put away (and found) with ease.
Gardening and growing – Some of the most favorite vision loss activities for elderly also involve plants and flowers. Helping with a raised garden, flowers and herbs in planters and pots, is perfect for nice weather months. But windowsill gardens are also excellent all year round. Dad can feel and eventually somewhat see how big the seedlings and plants are getting. You can get indoor tomato and strawberry plants as well, for something to “harvest” – eat. Anything edible is a real hit.
Flower kits are another provide wonderful activities too. We especially love to grow those spectacular amaryllis flower kits (available in stores in December), where you can literally watch and measure growth daily.
Dad also enjoys helping me cut (with a scissors) and arrange flowers in a vase. I often use a heavy plastic vase (safer) and may put some pebbles on the bottom to help weigh it down first.
Then we place in the flowers, feeling the flowers, smelling them, and talking about what kind they are. Next we fill the vase with a watering can, which I help with.
Dad is able to see general large and small shapes, plus contrast in the lights and darks of the flowers, so that adds a little variety and helps him decide how to arrange them.
Pets – Entertaining, holding, and petting a cat or dog can be satisfying and soothing activities for elderly with vision loss. Especially since many people had a pet and miss them. If you have a pet that needs attention, your older friend or family member may just be the solution. Elderly who are able to hear may also enjoy birds.
Personal Grooming – Believe it or not, sitting in a chair doing simple things like flossing teeth and filing fingernails with an emery board were very satisfying to Dad. He did both daily. And as you probably know, routine for elderly is very important. He’d also push back his cuticles and rub lotion on his hands. I showed him how to do a simple hand massage for himself (see our page with an easy hand reflexology chart, and why this can be so beneficial). Of course, you can also give him or her a hand massage yourself.
Easy Exercise – Some excellent activities for elderly involve movement and exercise. And they can learn to do it on their own. Dad was really into exercise and did his little routine every day a couple of times, including many movements in his chair. It was a healthy, kept him relatively limber and positive, and it was a satisfying way to use his time. We go into what he did in detail at exercises for the elderly.
We have so many more pages all around our web site that might be possibilities for you to modify and use as activities for elderly with vision loss (for instance, on our general Senior Activity Ideas page, with ideas for those who have fewer special needs) -- but there are lots of ideas that can be changed around). So do take a look and see what you can find. The link below will take you to our main page with activities for elderly who may have more limitations.
It just takes a little imagination and patience. And believe me, your efforts will be so greatly appreciated.
Also check out ideas you could modify at Sizzling Summer Senior Activities -- special unique dates and events, including things to do for them.