10 Refreshing Ideas for Summer Outings with Seniors
Many aging adults spend the bulk of their time just managing to get through the day. They take care of life's basics but often don't leave their home, assisted living center or nursing home, except for doctor appointments and an occasional holiday.
Families and friends might like to take a senior out for some fun but they don't know how to go about it. Even seasoned caregivers can be stumped for ideas, so here are a few to get started:
- Take a Sunday drive. When I was young, driving around the community to check out home town activity was a Sunday afternoon ritual for many adults. While life is more complicated now, many elders still enjoy watching new construction or being shown how the town that they've lived in for decades is changing. For those who live near flood prone bodies of water, spring is a terrific time to take a drive to see how this year's water levels compare to other years. A twist on this approach is to pick a prime time when cherry trees, crab apple trees or other ornamentals are at their peak and do a flower tour. Getting out of the car is optional, based on your elder's abilities and wishes.
- Go to the zoo. Who doesn't like baby animals? Spring is birth time for most species. Rent or borrow a wheelchair if one is needed for longer walks. Not only will your elders see baby animals, they will see young children reacting to the animals. As with everything suggested, watch your loved one for signs of fatigue, thirst, too much sun or other issues that could signal that it's time to leave, perhaps with a promise to return at another time should they wish to do so.
- Go to a restaurant. When was the last time you took your elder to a restaurant that he or she has enjoyed over the years? Now that snow isn't a problem, it's easier to navigate such adventures. Keep in mind that going for a meal at off-peak times is a good idea. That usually means less stress for everyone. Also, elders who are hard of hearing won't feel as isolated if there's less background noise.
- Visit a Dairy Queen. One of my mom's favorite treats was a hot fudge sundae from Dairy Queen. I'd often take her to get a sundae on the way home from a doctor visit or other necessary outing, but occasionally we'd go to Dairy Queen just for something to do. She preferred sitting in the car to eat, but I do suggest encouraging your loved ones to sit outside if the weather's nice and they are able.
- Enjoy children at play. Watch children swim or play on playground equipment. Spring brings young children out in throngs. People who enjoy children often like hearing their laughter and watching the seeming innocence of this type of play.
- Spring programs. Take your elder to the spring programs that most schools sponsor. This is particularly nice if a grandchild or great-grandchild is involved, but that's not necessary. If your elder doesn't know any of the children, then I'd suggest focusing on the younger ones. They tend to be "cuter." However, if grandchildren are involved, take your elder to watch them perform in their concerts, plays or other activities. You may have to arrange for a spouse or friend to be available to take Grandma home if she gets tired or uncomfortable. A twist on this idea is to attend one of the concerts in the park that many communities have during the spring and summer.
- Have a picnic. Whether you go to a park, stay in your own backyard or use the grounds of the nursing home, a picnic is often possible. If your loved one is able, going to a park would be nice, however many nursing homes have gorgeous grounds and nice areas with tables that accommodate wheel chairs. If all else fails—and I'm aware that this isn't an outing but sometimes we have to punt—bring a picnic to your loved one in the care home.
- Check out the crops. If your elder has an agricultural background or is interested in wildflowers, try taking a country drive. My parents didn't have any first-hand agricultural experience, but they still enjoyed driving in the country to see new crops being planted and wild flowers blooming. Tailor this outing to your area of the country and your elder's preferences.
- Go fishing. A friend told me that his community sponsors events where elders are taken out on pontoons—wheelchairs and all—to fish. Volunteers are there to help with anything the elder can't do. Just being out on the water and holding a rod can be a thrill for someone who has enjoyed fishing in the past. Again, this can be adjusted to accommodate other pastimes.
- Visit a friend. Many elders lose touch with their peers. Sickness, the death of a spouse and/or difficulty getting around can mean they haven't seen a dear friend for months or even years. See if you can set up a lunch or just a visit with someone your loved one has enjoyed through the years. Perhaps you can take them both to a park or a restaurant.
Use these ideas as springboards. You know your loved one. What did his or she enjoy in their earlier, healthier days? Don't be afraid to ask what they miss doing or what they'd like to do. They may not hear those questions very often these days.
If you get a shoulder shrug or an "I don't know," then be ready to say, "Sunday looks nice so we'll go for a picnic." You may get some resistance but if it seems like simple inertia, just say with a smile that it would make you very happy if they'd do this for you. If a loved one truly doesn't want to be part of an activity, try whittling down your expectations and suggesting something less strenuous.
As mentioned above, during any of these activities monitor your loved one for dehydration and heat issues if the weather is warm, or chilliness if it's cool. Older bodies don't adjust to temperature changes as well as younger ones. Be prepared with sun hats and hooded windbreakers. Also, bring water to drink and watch for fatigue.
And remember, you are doing this for pleasure, so don't overdo anything.