Activities for Seniors Make Lives Better
January 23-27 is National Activity Professionals Week, a great time to celebrate those who have the creativity and the spirit of collaboration to motivate patients. From fitness classes to BINGO games, activity professionals are experts in making people’s lives better. That job is even more important when it comes to seniors. Regular activities combat low self-esteem, poor health, and most of all, loneliness. All of which become more prevalent as we age.
Activities are much more than ways to pass the time, especially for older adults. The National Institute on Aging recently published a study (https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/participating-activities-you-enjoy-you-age) where they found those who participated in meaningful social activities said they were happier and healthier. Regular activities reduce depression and anxiety, promote dignity and independence, and combat loneliness.
The study also discovered more active seniors have better coping skills and longer lifespans. According to Dr. Mayda Antun, Chief Clinical Officer for CareMax, all activities are beneficial to overall mental and physical health, including playing games, enjoying a hobby, reading, and sports.
“We know physical exercise can help prevent and control many chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease,” said Dr. Antun. “But it is also important for seniors to participate in activities that exercise their brains and provide social interaction.”
CareMax runs value-based care locations throughout the U.S. The entire model of care at CareMax, called Whole Person Health, requires focus on patients’ healthcare and wellness, the combination of which helps CareMax patients stay healthier by providing opportunities for physical, mental, and social stimulation. The focus on wellness requires the expertise of people like Odalys Hernandez, activity coordinator at CareMax in Orlando, Florida.
Odalys began her CareMax career watching patients’ activities while she cleaned the office.
“Even though my job was to keep the clinic clean, I always helped the activities coordinator and enjoyed it,” said Odalys. “I’ve always liked working with people, especially to brighten their day. When the coordinator retired, I decided to apply and was hired. It was the best decision I made.”
“This job takes a lot of patience, respect, humanity, tolerance, and solidarity,” said Odalys. “I love my work.”
Odalys and her team come up with a calendar of events every month. Patients can choose as many as they’d like, according to their abilities and interests. Variety is also important. In any one week there could be classes for exercise, dancing, and arts & crafts, along with dominoes, BINGO, and crossword puzzling, not to mention opportunities to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other seasonal and special events.
“One of the greatest things is when patients pick up skills they thought they had forgotten such as crafts, music, dancing, and singing,” Odalys continued. “Laughing, playing, and spending time with those who have the same needs and interests is vitally important to our patients’ health.”
Patient input is very important to developing an activities plan, and their myriad expertise is always taken into consideration. They often use what they’ve learned from their valued lives to help guide others. Some even teach classes. At CareMax Westchester, patients decided they wanted to create centerpieces for their tables for the holidays, so that became part of the activities calendar (and resulted in some beautiful centerpieces).
This attention to and importance of patients’ well-being became even more important during the COVID-19 isolation. Knowing their patients would quickly become socially isolated, CareMax put into place online wellness programs, including fitness and games, and kept in constant communication with patients to help combat the loneliness. It wasn’t easy to switch from in-person to online, but activities professionals across the system realized how important that connection was to their seniors. As soon as it was safe to do so, the wellness centers reopened.
“Activities help seniors find purpose and fight social isolation and loneliness,” said Dr. Antun. “Whatever works for each person is significant.”
Odalys knows firsthand how important those activities are. She sees it every day.
“I can see the physical, mental and emotional development in each of the patients,” she said. “Their mood lifts and they develop greater self-esteem. Every change I see is positive.”