By Haley Burress United States
When is the last time you intentionally scheduled time in your activity calendar for math-focused activities?
Most Activity Professionals rely on planning events that focus on physical or fine motor skills, socialization opportunities, or reminiscence. But we can also use math to create even more cognitive stimulation for our residents.
Do you find math boring, or do you have flashbacks of learning about angles and solving for “x” in high school? Math might not be everyone’s favorite subject, but its foundations are in daily tasks like grocery shopping or in more complex tasks like construction. Using these daily and familiar operations, you can give seniors the chance to use their brains in a different way. Learn more about neurobic exercises here.
Research has shown us that learning new skills, trying new things, and taking a break from the “normal” routine creates brain plasticity (the ability of the brain to modify its connections or rewire itself). Give your residents the opportunity to do all three by trying out a little math in your monthly programming calendar.
You don’t have to give math tests or worksheets to incorporate math skills in a friendly way. Instead, try these math-based activities in your group or 1:1 interactions based on resident interests, history, preferences, and ability.
Use familiar math by giving a budget and passing around grocery store advertisements. Have groups of residents, or individual residents, work on planning a meal for the budget. They will have to find ingredients in the advertisements, add the cost, and stay under, or at, budget. You can have some fun with scenarios, like “plan a picnic lunch” or “plan a fancy dinner party to take one of your peers”.
Try a math problem of the day together. You can do this problem together before your exercise class, explaining that you need to exercise your brain before your body.
Former teachers may enjoy grading math papers. Give them a stack of completed math worksheets and a red pen and watch them go. This is especially great for a former teacher with some early memory loss, as it taps into that role.
Work with perimeter and area by involving residents when you plan your community garden. Determine how many feet of fencing you will need, as well as how much soil you will need to purchase. Then, estimate the cost by looking at current sale advertisements from your local gardening store.
Use measurement utensils like rulers and tape measures when you work on crafts. For example, have participants cut six inches of ribbon after they measure it. This is great math skills as well as fine motor practice.
Have weekly estimation jars set up in your activity room or nursing station. Fill it up with odds and ends each week, and have residents (and family members), guess how many items there are in the clear container. Items can include pompons, paperclips, pencils, candy canes, or mints. The person who guesses the closest number can receive a prize at the weekly social.
Add a worded math problem to your newsletter, or to your in-house announcement station (if you have one) that will run on your resident televisions.
Work on determining equivalency and estimation by guessing how much common household items were last year, five years ago, twenty years ago, and fifty years ago. Try items like a lightbulb, gallon of gas, can of soup, a pound of lemons, etc.
Brush up on math skills by checking out YouTube for education videos for learning everything from multiplication tables via song to simplifying fractions. Make a regular event of it and call it your Math Club.
Invite grandkids to a Math Star competition where they are paired with their senior loved one to work on math problems together. Flash cards are a good option for younger kids, while older kids can work out worded problems. Give prizes for which group got the most correct, as well as consolation prizes like “Never Gave Up”, “Best Handwriting”, etc. Cookies and punch for everyone after the competition!
Invite a math class in from a local school to see how math tools have changed in the past 50 years. Compare old calculators to smartphones and computer programs that solve problems faster for students.
Involve residents with planning outings and large events, focusing on timelines of the events. If it takes us 30 minutes to drive to the theater and about 30 minutes to load up the bus, and the show starts at 3pm, when should we leave? What about if we want extra time to grab popcorn and find our seats? Questions and problem solving regarding time can be a wonderful way to work the brain in a new but helpful way.
Don’t underestimate the power of counting, especially for seniors with advanced memory loss. Count the scarves as you put them back in the basket, count the steps to get to the activity room, etc.
No matter if math was your favorite subject in school or not, there is a lot of the subject that you can incorporate into your regular happenings throughout your community. Start with one math activity per month and then increase it if there is interest. You never know how residents will respond!
Do you use math in your programming now? Tell me how - I’d love to hear!