15 Activities for Loners and Introverted Seniors

15 Activities for Loners and Introverted Seniors

Categories: Activities Articles One-on-One

Most long term care facilities have some residents who are ‘loners’ or ‘introverts’; they enjoy being in their bedrooms and do not often pursue interaction with others.
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Most long term care facilities have some residents who are ‘loners’ or ‘introverts’; they enjoy being in their bedrooms and do not often pursue interaction with others. They engage with life in fundamentally different ways than their extrovert counterparts.

Statistically, approximately 25% of the population are naturally either loners or introverts. It is just one more in the myriad of possible personality traits unless clinical assessment deems otherwise.

Loners vs Introverts: An Important Distinction

Loners are people who avoid or do not actively seek human interaction; they prefer to be alone. Introverts, on the other hand prefer to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves rather than talk openly. This does not necessarily mean that introverts prefer to be alone, but their thoughtful and reflective nature causes them by nature to be quieter.

Both terms, although very different in meaning, are used interchangeably to describe people who enjoy solitude. A loner differs from an introvert in that the loner chooses to be alone and avoids socializing while the introvert feels drained after socializing and needs time out to recharge.

Related: How to Motivate Residents in Long Term Care

The word ‘Loner’, when used in the context of aging often carries a negative connotation. The accepted rationale that all people should be social creatures is erroneous; being a loner is not always a negative enterprise. Loners can be independent, creative and happy people in their own way.

There are two types of Loners:

  • Intentional loners
    Intentional loners are those who prefer their own company to the company of others, and may actively avoid interacting with other people. Introverts are those who keep to themselves and are content to be on their own.

  • Unintentional Loners
    Un-intentional loners and introverts are those who isolate themselves from others because of mental illness or social alienation.

Common reasons for being a Loner/Introvert

  • Inherited temperament (DNA)
  • Shyness
  • Bad past experiences - e.g. someone who has been ostracized may use solitude as a coping mechanism.
  • Intolerant personality
  • Family tradition of privacy
  • Being overly sensitive
  • Religious considerations
  • Some sort of mental disorder (depression, anxiety, social phobia and others)

Nevertheless, solitude is a normal human need and much emphasis is placed on being ‘social’ when a reasonable lack of social activity is perfectly natural.

Isolation in Nursing Homes

Problems can arise when loners and introverts enter long-term care facilities. Suddenly, choices are limited and isolation among seniors in care facilities can be a serious problem.

Leisure & Lifestyle staff need to find ways to balance the needs of introverts/loners and avert mental illnesses that may result from chronic isolation.

Related: Social Isolation - How To Support Your Clients

Here are a few ideas that might help.

Activities for loners and introverts

  1. Bird keeping
    A budgie in a large cage would be a companion and an occupation for a loner.
    Related: 10 Benefits of Pet Therapy

  2. Weather Station
    A weather station is a great project to have on the grounds of a care facility. It can engage 3 or 4 loners, each doing their own thing. Purchase a few devices for measuring the temperature, rain fall, relative humidity and other elements of nature in your local hardware store.

    Related: Weather Station Activities for Seniors

  3. Pet Keeping
    Most people appreciate the company of pets. Unfortunately many care facilities do not allow residents to have pets. If your facility is not one of them, consider a pet that is small, quiet and friendly.
    Related: Pet Therapy in Nursing Homes

  4. Mobile Library
    Weekly or monthly, a mobile library with audio books, CDs and large print books would help loners and those unable to get to the library.
    Related: Mobile Library Trolley

  5. Bird Watching
    Use your own backyard or garden to observe birds. A pair of binoculars is a good investment if the resident is keen (priced from $120 onwards).
    Related: Bird Watching Activities

  6. Bicycling
    Consider taking a loner to a safe place for a bike ride (providing he/she knows how to ride a bike), an empty football field or a park with a bike path. Invite a relative or two to add to the fun.

  7. Drawing/Sketching
    Drawing is not an inherited talent; all you need is to practice; there should be no pressure or judgement.
    Related: The Benefits of Coloring for the Elderly

  8. Games
    The Internet is full of free games you can load up on a computer. If you use the web browser Chrome there is a great list of Puzzle & Brain Apps available.
    Related: Word Games and Sudoku and Riddles and Crosswords and Word Searches.

    Another idea is to use iPads or Android tablets - the touch interface makes the devices easier to use and understand and there are lots of free and cheap games available to download.

  9. Learn something online
    • Darts
    • Poker
    • Piano
    • Ukulele
    • Digital photography
    • Knitting
    • Calligraphy
    • A few words from a language you were always curious about.
      Free language website www.duolingo.com

  10. Visit a loved-one
    Even a loner may have a good friend or relative they feel comfortable with. In fact loners often develop a strong one-on-one relationships based on common interests and mutual respect with staff or volunteers or others.
    Related: Tips for One-on-One Visits with Seniors

  11. Furniture Restoring
    Bring an old desk or chair to its former glory by sanding and spray painting or varnishing it. A therapeutic and gratifying hobby.
    Related: Sanding & Painting Birdhouses

  12. Painting
    A Painting class is a great way to attract loners; despite being a group session it allows the loner to sit by himself and do his own thing.

  13. Movie Watching
    Another group activity suitable to loners; they can be seated quietly in a corner.
    Related: Movies About Aging and the Elderly

  14. Collage
    One of the most versatile art activities, collages can be made from anything you have at hand: photographs, toys, bits of fabric/leather/wood, newspaper, nails, safety pins, buttons and, the list goes on. Collages can be abstract or based on a theme and it is fun to make them in the privacy of one’s room.
    Related: Recycle Magazine Scrapbooks and Sticks & Bark Collage

  15. Cooking
    Consider facilitating the baking of cookies. The cookies could be shared with a group and a nice ‘Thank you’ card sent to the ‘baker’ from the group.
    Related: Cooking with Elders in Assisted Living Facilities

We'd love to hear your feedback!
What has worked well in your experience?


gail 12th Aug 2016
Play the UNGAME It encourages conversing and telling stories of one's life. No winners or losers. Everyone has a story to tell about their life, The questions are really good to start sharing and reminiscing.
peggysue 16th Apr 2016
I have recently started work as an 'activities officer' in aged care and at least one third of residents are basically non-ambulate - sitting in a water chair as well as non-verbal.most of these residents have also little or no use of their hands and arms. Apart from hand massage, manicure, ensuring they attend music and sing-a-longs, I read poetry to them and the paper(only positive stories). I need more ideas to improve the quality of life for these residents! any & all suggestions will be greatly appreciated!
Donna 22nd Apr 2016
I have found these residents enjoy garden walks. Also if your able to get an Ipad you can google things that interested them in the past eg nature, birds, trains, boats even film clips of their favourite singing group. If they were travellers you could google places they have been and talk to them about this. They may not be able to respond but you can normally get a lot from facial expressions. It is a great way to do reminising with them.
Debi 7th Feb 2016
My Residents have enjoyed the adult coloring sheets. They are always asking for more. They also enjoy word search, crossword puzzles and trivia sheets. Packets are handed out weekly.
Doris 16th Aug 2015
I worked in a care facility that ran a Seniors "Spin Class". It was lead by a Recreation and Occupational Therapy staff member. The stationary bicycles came in two styles an upright regular bike or normal style as well as the low rider type. The lower rider was where you were seated in a regular chair but strapped your feet into a stationary bicycle. Various music was played while participants cycled, some were familiar songs that they sang along to. This program was well received by those who joined in.
Sheila 4th Aug 2014
I love all the comments that have come through - Solange - I am working in a Frail care Centre where even an exercise bicycle is not an option because of the fraility of the residents. Though I do run a "chairobics" session each day.
Another option for the loners is a crossword or puzzle challenge which can be handed out at the beginning of the week and then a prize awarded for the first correct entry drawn. I have a lady who spends much time alone but now has a volunteer doing the cryptic crossword with her because of her macular degeneration. Now another lady has joined them so suddenly we have a small group.
We also have a jigsaw out on a table in the lounge for everyone to enjoy.
Solange 30th Jul 2014
Balance is indeed a problem for most elderly people. Nevertheless, cycling accounts for 23% of all journeys for people 65 and older in the Netherlands. The sport is not deep-seated in our culture but it is becoming increasingly popular all over the world.

Many people are now starting cycling in their 60s + years. The University of Sydney conducted two Pilot Studies of the effects of bicycling on balance and leg strength among older adults between 49 – 79 years of age. The research concluded that those who had cycled in the preceding month “performed significantly better on measures of decision time and response time than those who had not”.

The research added that cycling is less stressful than walking and that the risks are outweighed by the benefits. I realize that there aren’t many ’cyclists’ in long-term care but soon we will hear of ‘Cycling Programs for older Adults’ being recommended.
Jacqueline 30th Jul 2014
Yes our residents partake in most of those activites loner or not but one of the things that we do for our residents that prefer their own company is find a like minded volunteer to spend some time with them and encourage them to start the journey of telling their lifestory.
This often results in that person and the volunteer being very good friends. We our lucky to have our own coffee shop so that the resident and the volunteer will enjoy their conversation and friendship in that environment.
Leanne 30th Jul 2014
Thanks for a great article. I was thinking of hiring a couple of adult tricycles which would alleviate the balancing issue. We can organise our own 'tour de France' complete with a yellow guernsey! I love this job :)
Sheila 29th Jul 2014
Well done - great article and I am so glad that you have made mention of the fact that some residents enjoy their own company. When living in a communal setting where rooms have to be shared its hard for residents to find "their own space and time to themselves".

I have also noted that unless every resident is joining in with activities there is pressure on the facilitator to include everyone or somehow you are perceived as not having done your job.. No activity is therapeutic unless the person wishes to be a part of it. Choice is so important especially in a frail care setting where so few choices are left.

The only activity I would exclude is biking - not many elderly people still have the ability to balance safely!
Robyn 29th Jul 2014
Jigsaws are another idea for residents that don't like mixing with others. We leave a jigsaw out at all times and the residents can go and put in the pieces when they like. Once the jigsaw is finished we place it in the main sitting area for all to enjoy until the next one is done. It's amazing the amount of residents that like to pop in and add a few pieces every now and then.


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