6 Ways Recreational Therapy Helps Seniors

Nurse Next Door

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 As we get older, our hobbies and passions can sometimes fall to the wayside due to busy schedules, health concerns, or physical limitations. Recreational therapy is an important tool that helps seniors to reconnect with the activities they once enjoyed – or find new ones – in a way that improves their physical and mental health, as well as their cognitive function.

At Nurse Next Door, we believe Happier Aging™ starts with one simple question: What did you used to love doing that you no longer do? Our experienced, licensed caregivers then help seniors get back to doing the things that bring them joy and pleasure, no matter how big or small, with therapeutic recreational activities personalized to their unique needs and interests.


What is Recreational Therapy?

Before we dive into the benefits of recreational therapy for seniors, let’s address exactly what it is. Recreational therapy, sometimes referred to as therapeutic recreation, involves using recreational activities to restore, maintain, or enhance an individual’s cognitive, social, physical, and emotional functioning. Often, activities are adapted to meet the senior where they’re at (i.e., chair yoga). While, of course, our home health care services are designed to address your loved one’s physical and medical needs, we also want to allow them to rediscover the fun in life. Recreational therapy helps us to do just that.

Recreational therapy activities can include games, dancing, music, arts and crafts, sports, exercise, and more. Activities can be done in a group setting (once the pandemic is over) or one-on-one with your loved one’s caregiver. Recreational therapy is important for all seniors, and it can be especially helpful for supporting the recovery and wellbeing of those who have had a stroke or individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia, physical disabilities, or mental health issues.

The Benefits of Recreational Therapy for Seniors

Recreational therapy is more than just a way of having fun, it also:

  • Boosts Cognitive Function

Recreational therapy activities keep seniors mentally stimulated, slowing cognitive decline. Activities like card games, trivia, crosswords, board games, arts and crafts, playing an instrument, or even learning to use technology can improve memory and concentration, increase alertness, and strengthen problem-solving skills.

Research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that stimulating activity, both socially or mentally oriented, can preserve cognitive function in the elderly and may reduce the risk of developing dementia. Another study published in the journal Neurology examined the benefits of recreational activities for seniors and individuals in middle age. The findings were similar, suggesting that engaging in creative hobbies like painting, woodworking, and pottery preserves memory and lowers the risk for dementia.

Why is this? The social interaction, mental stimulation, and learning involved in recreational therapy activities are thought to enhance the function of brain cells and strengthen neural networks, keeping seniors sharp and warding off cognitive impairment. 


recreational therapy for seniors

  • Improves Physical Health

We can help seniors stay physically fit with recreational therapy. While cycling or walking could be appropriate for some seniors, others may benefit from seated exercises or swimming. It’s about finding the physical activity a senior enjoys doing and tailoring it to their abilities, needs, and level of health.

Exercise offers a host of impressive benefits, including relieving insomnia, lowering the risk for a variety of diseases and conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure, and alleviating depression and anxiety. Recreational therapy activities that get seniors moving will also improve their mobility, balance, flexibility, strength, coordination, and agility, which can help with recovery from health concerns and prevent falls and other injuries.


  • Allows for Socialization

The elderly can become isolated, and this is truer than ever during the coronavirus pandemic. Isolation makes seniors susceptible to loneliness and depression. This not only affects their mental health, but can also impact their physical health, putting them at a higher risk for stroke, dementia, heart disease, and other conditions. A study in Psychosomatic Medicine found a correlation between social isolation and cognitive decline as well. This highlights how isolation can be harmful to all areas of a senior’s health.  

Thankfully, recreational therapy has powerful social benefits. By doing enjoyable leisure activities with a caregiver, seniors receive companionship care and valuable social interaction. If there are opportunities for safe, group activities, these settings help seniors develop a sense of community, bolster their social skills, and potentially build lasting relationships that go beyond the activity.


  • Reduces Stress

Recreational therapy activities encourage mindfulness and are a beneficial tool for coping with stressors, ranging from health concerns to financial worries. Additionally, doing the activities they used to enjoy, can give seniors a sense of purpose and increase their self-esteem. This will decrease stress and improve their mood.


  • Increases Independence

By helping seniors relearn or strengthen existing skills, develop new skills, or find creative ways of doing things that are no longer as accessible to them, recreational therapy can enable those with certain conditions to become more independent. For example, if your loved one had a stroke, recreational therapy activities, such as cooking, can hasten recovery, while allowing them to eventually do more on their own. Additionally, even activities that seem unrelated like painting or chair volleyball will improve hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. This often carries over to daily tasks, helping seniors regain a bit of their independence and, in turn, confidence.


  • Enhances Quality of Life

The physical, cognitive, and emotional health benefits of recreational therapy all add up to enhancing seniors’ sense of wellbeing and improving their quality of life. When seniors are engaging in fun, healthy, meaningful activities that bring contentment and happiness to their day, they feel more optimistic. Having fun is so important to vitality and building a life you love at any age. 


Interested in Home Health Care and Recreational Therapy for Your Loved One?

As you can see, recreational therapy can help seniors live a more fulfilling life. At Nurse Next Door, we’re experts in Happier Aging. We believe seniors can stay in their own home and, with the right support, continue to do the things they used to love.

We’ll identify your loved one’s interests and hobbies and then match them with the ideal caregiver to put a recreational therapy plan into action. Whether your mom, dad or grandparent could benefit from short-term home health care or they need around-the-clock care, we have flexible solutions to meet your family’s needs.

To learn more, give our Care Team a call today toll-free at 1-877-588-8609!

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