Creative Elderly Stress Activities

Fun and effective elderly stress activities are an important part of overall senior care. And can help give relief and distraction from burdens that befall the aging. As caregiver, I did several of these with my own father, in his late 90s, and they certainly did help take his mind off his worries.

Dad was very patient, despite being almost blind and deaf, and having difficulty socializing.  I could always tell when he had concerns. Instead being his normal cheerful self, he would blurt out, “It’s hell getting old!” I had to come up with lots of different ways to help him.

NOTE:  Some seniors are introverts and need special and/or gentle urging to participate in some elderly stress activities. Others may have become lethargic and will need a bit of urging. Effective elderly stress activities involve several factors – physical, emotional, creative, mental, and spiritual needs.

It's always important to consult the medical professional as needed, if there is a question about any stress relief activities.

And you may find some of these ideas are great for caregivers too, as care of elderly can sometimes be overwhelming.

Keeping these factors in mind, this page will summarize some effective ideas (and not just squeezing rubbery stress balls, which come in such shapes as cupcakes, golf balls, and cartoon faces). Or working on puzzles. We’ll also link you to other pages for more details.

TLC and Contact With Others

First, we’ll start with some typical stress busters. I found that any types of elderly stress activities that provide a little TLC (and especially physical contact) were very enjoyable for Dad.

First, here are the usual...

*  Holding and playing with great-grandkids.

*  Petting a pet that a friend or family member brought over.

*  Dad always smiled when I helped him shave (with an electric shaver). It made him feel pampered.

*  Foot and hand care – a local nurse in town makes home visits that includes a foot soak, trimming toenails and fingernails, and a foot and hand massage. Dad loved it!

*  An easy hand reflexology treatment – I’ve included a basic hand reflexology chart on that page. Just about anyone can do it.

*  His routine haircut. Just something as basic as that helped him de-stress.

*  We also did regular deep breathing together. When you count while doing this, it takes more focus, so you don’t think about something else.  Count for 4 seconds while breathing in, holding breath, breathing out, holding breath. Depending on a person’s health, you may need to consult a medical professional first.

Fun and Games

Games and laughter, of course, help with stress. We do have a thorough page about elderly games. But in addition to that, here are a few more fun elderly stress activities.

*  Desktop punching ball – you can turning punching into a small game!

*  Creating, maintaining or watching an aquarium. Retirement campuses sometimes have these, and so-called aquarium therapy is a known stress reliever. Just sitting and watching one is meditative and calming and can reduce blood pressure and pulse rate. Purdue University did a study with aquariums and Alzheimer patients, showing that patients became more alert and quiet.

*  Desk or table-top games --  golf putting game, bowling, magnetic dart board, mini pool table, or “flick” hockey. (These are games with small objects, so would work only for those with good eye and finger dexterity.)

*  Magnetic sculptures involve different magnetic metal shapes, sometimes in various colors, that can be stacked together in endless creative ways. Again, some of these may include small pieces, although they do come in various sizes.

*  Working with the earth, plants and flowers are excellent elderly stress activities –- raised or potted gardens are perfect. Especially if it's something you can eat later, like tomatoes or strawberries. There's something about feeling one's hands in the earth that is so therapeutic. Or the grass under one's feet. Placing feet in a water feature such as a pool or stream also feels great.

*  Growing a bonsai tree – you can get them in kits with instructions. This project takes some care (and perhaps a little help), so offers a fascintating ongoing activity.

Tactile Activities

These types of elderly stress activities can be done while listening to music, chatting, or even watching a good movie on TV. Many engage several senses and distract the mind.

*  Running sand through the fingers. Potted plants and flowers can be spaced apart in a box of sand. When people come to tend to the plants, weed them, snip off dead leaves and blooms, they also love to run their fingers in the sand. Sometimes flowers that have fallen off their stems are laid in the sand to decorate.

*  Slowly swishing hands in water or bubbles.

*  Feeling something soft like plush velvet or wrapping up in fluffy fleece or soft angora.

*  Working with clay, especially if it will be fired to complete a satisfactory project.

*  Sanding wood (with no slivers), feeling it get smoother and smoother is therapeutic. This is a great one for those who liked to work with their hands, build things, and use tools. I actually used to love doing this with Dad when I was a child. Because this activity can produce sawdust, a mask is advised.

*  Polishing or oiling wood until it gleams is a favorite “old-time” elderly stress activity for some.

*  Others like to polish silverware until it shines.

*  My grandma used to love to shell peas, feeling the little round peas slide through her fingers. She would do bowls of them. She also used to enjoy sitting at the table chopping vegetables and listening to music or chatting.

*  Knitting or crocheting may be someone’s favorite hobby, yet they just don’t feel like doing it. (Have you ever felt like that?) But doing a project for someone else, like joining a group that makes prayer shawls, might get them out of a slump.

 *  Likewise, joining a quilting group for a cause can be relaxing because of the goal and camaraderie too.

*  Rug hooking is another tactile activity that is easy, yet involves just enough concentration to distract from stress. There are loads of kits available in craft stores.

*  How about good ole washing dishes with plenty of bubbles in the sink. Many folks find this to be another pleasant and nostalgic activity. My grandmother used to love to wash dishes. It allowed her to do something with her hands and daydream at the same time. Now and then I also find it relaxing. (And in fact, I actually enjoy doing housework when I need to de-stress. It’s good physical activity and keeps me from thinking too much).

*  Folding laundry was one of Dad’s favorite tasks to help me with. He loved the fresh smell, the feel of the fabric, and took his time folding each piece very carefully.

*  Finger painting is not just for kids! (But it certainly be done along with them). It’s also one of the simple yet creative elderly stress activities – in fact, some quite sophisticated art work can be made. Feeling soft, flowing paint between the fingers and watching trails of color slide across a piece of paper makes a really fun project. Colors also can be blended together while painting to make new colors. This is especially fun for those with no “artistic ability” because there is no such thing as good or bad or making a mistake – just fun. 

Be sure to cover the table with newspaper and wear a cover-up!. Either finger paint or poster paint can be used, adding a little water to the painting as needed, so it moves well on the paper. Paint can be put into muffin tins. We used to paint on butcher paper or freezer paper as kids.

When dry, linear designs and details can be added with colored markers if desired. Try hanging the finished product(s) all together mural style. Or flatten under books, then laminate and used as place mats; perhaps laminate and cut into strips for bookmarks.

Of course, there are many other arts and craft ideas that are great elderly stress activities. Take a look at our section for Easy Craft Ideas.

More Miscellaneous

Here are a few more random stress soothers…

*  Aromatherapy. Various scents (using real essential oils when possible) do calm the nerves, such as lavender, rose, lemon, peppermint, jasmine, sage, and vanilla. Dad and I enjoyed having a tray with a variety of scents and would take turns inhaling the various fragrances, sometimes guessing what they were, talking about them, and about what memories came to mind from them.

Other elderly stress activities involving aroma would be scented candles (which do come flameless – I have a lovely one in vanilla); diffusers; hand, neck and/or shoulder massage with scented oils; taking a warm bath with scented oils or bubble bath; making a lavender pillow or potpourri.

*  Music and mood. I’m sure you’re aware that certain kinds of music are real stress releasers. But we’ve found some very interesting information about this topic, so do check out our page on Health, Music and Mood.

*  Good old times.  Looking through photo albums and talking about good old times and having a few laughs. (However, depending on the person and situation of course, this can sometimes backfire and cause sadness or distress instead).

*  A Japanese zen sand garden is a lovely and soothing tabletop pastime. You can purchase one in a kit or make one yourself. It usually includes a shallow wooden box filled with a thick layer of fine sand, some smooth pebbles of various sizes that can be rearranged over and over, and a small rake with which to created designs in the sand. Flowers to lay upon the sand design is another add-on option. This provides lots of hand-eye activity and is very calming.

*  Calming crystals. Sometimes a person just feels like sitting around and not doing anything in particular. There are some elderly stress activities that are really good for this. For instance, many years ago one of my sons started giving me crystal snowflake ornaments for Christmas. (But any kind of a faceted crystal-like or glass object will do). They are so beautiful I hang them in my window off-season and watch the sun glint and blaze through the facets, changing colors and also make rainbow patterns on the wall. It’s a nice distraction, is meditational and calms the spirit.

*  Inexpensive “Shopping Therapy” is a favorite pastime for many, and a reason to get out. For those on a budget, browsing at a thrift store, flea market or a few garage sales will do the trick. I like to find something to bring home and turn into a project – making  picture frame crafts, painting on glass (see our page on how to paint glass), doing something seasonal, or making a gift for someone. Finding ways to give to others is often a sure-fire way to dissolve one’s stress. 

*  Relaxation room.  Perhaps you can set up a little room or part of a room with a window and some sunshine, filled with a few uplifting things like a couple very comfy chairs, footstools, colorful coffee table books to browse through, plants, flowers, hanging crystals, a table-top zen garden, a puzzle, a small water element or fountain, even a bird cage if possible.

*  “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” is a great book by Richard Carlson, Ph.D.  Sometimes it is true that stress can be self-created. Ever heard of this book series? (And the author thinks just about everything is small stuff when we think big-picture). He truly teaches how to relax. I have a couple of the books on hand and pull them out from time to time as needed. They really help regain perspective. These are also nice books to read to someone – I read one to my Dad since he is unable to see, and he loved it. (Reading to someone is one of our most relaxing elderly stress activities).

Dr. Carlson believes that if we do things for others and take a little attention off of ourselves, we receive more kindness back too, which helps melt stress away. Even saying a few kind words to another, assisting someone with a simple task, giving a compliment, helps them (and us) feel better just about instantly.

Speaking of helping others, if you’re looking for volunteer ideas to enhance your life, be sure to click the link to visit our page.

Or perhaps you’re interested in finding a hobby that will add a little pizzazz to life.  A hobby (particularly one that can bring in a little extra money) is an excellent way to redirect the mind.

An important part of our elderly health care is to find ways to help relieve the ongoing burdens that cause stress. We have dozens of pages on our web site with helpful hints and more elderly stress activities. Here are a few…

How To Get Happy; Top Hints – When we feel overwhelmed and stressed out we might wonder if we’ll ever get back to being happy again. We’ve discovered lots of expert advice (and some of our own) to share.
Exercise for Seniors – And its links to other pages about t’ai chi for seniors, yoga, and Spring Forest Qigong (one of my favorites). Swimming and walking, as you probably know, are two top, easy ways to exercise. We all know that exercise is one of the best elderly stress activities there is.
Senior Activity Ideas – There are so many more ideas on our web site that can serve as elderly stress activities, so do check out this section too.


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