How to Plan Age Appropriate Activities for Seniors

How to Plan Age Appropriate Activities for Seniors

User Profile By Molly Wisniewski   United States

Found In: Activities Articles

Developing an activities calendar that is age-appropriate for residents is so important. In this article we examples of how you can adapt activities that are often considered 'childish' to ensure they are age-appropriate.
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Developing an activities calendar that is age-appropriate for residents is so important. Singing nursery rhymes and coloring can be popular activities for older adults but we must ensure that these types of activities are conducted in dignified and age-appropriate ways.

Here are examples of how you can adapt activities that are often considered 'childish' to ensure they are age-appropriate.

1. Singing Nursery Rhymes

Many older adults will enjoy singing nursery rhymes from their childhood. Even people living with dementia can often recall the lines of songs from their youth.

Popular nursery rhymes include:

  • Row Row Row Your Boat
  • Hickory Dickory Dock
  • Hot Cross Buns
  • Georgy Porgy Pudding Pie
  • Old King Cole

Related: Reminiscing with Childhood Nursery Rhymes

When using nursery rhymes in an activity, make sure that any CD or Video you use to accompany the activity is age-appropriate. Avoid anything that is specifically targeted to babies and small children.

Related: Nursery Rhyme Game

2. Coloring-in

Coloring can be a relaxing activity for residents, including those living with dementia. However, coloring with crayons and using kids color-in pages or traditional coloring books can be inappropriate for older adults.

Instead, seek coloring pages that have been specifically designed for older adults.

Try these printable and age appropriate coloring pages on Golden Carers:

Read more on the benefits of coloring and find even more printable pages here:
The Benefits of Coloring-in for the Elderly

3. Doll Therapy

Doll therapy can be a very successful intervention for older adults living with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. To comfort a baby doll can bring a great deal of joy and rekindle memories of the past.

Doll Therapy Dos to Don'ts:

  • Don't: Explain that the baby doll isn't real to the resident holding the doll. To them, the doll is a baby that they need to care for and to tell them that it's not real can be very painful.
  • Do: Hold and speak to the doll as if it were a baby.
  • Don't: Expect every resident to benefit from Doll Therapy. Doll Therapy is not for everyone, so it would not be age appropriate to give every resident a doll.
  • Do: Have 1 or 2 dolls available for residents who you believe may benefit. Place the dolls in a cot or somewhere they can be easily found.

Visitors, staff, and even other residents may question why the resident is holding a baby doll. It is helpful to be able to explain to them the benefits of nurturing a doll and the appropriateness of this intervention for the person in question.

Related: Doll Therapy & Dementia

4. Watching Movies and T.V.

These days it can be challenging to find family-friendly TV shows or movies that are suitable to watch with the residents. Because of this, it may seem appropriate to put on cartoons or 'kids' movies for the residents to watch.

Watching cartoons is appropriate when:

  • children are around, or
  • if the activity calls for it - for example a Remembering Dumbo activity.

At other times, it is better to choose age-appropriate movies and shows from yesteryear. Try these popular movies and TV shows:

  • Roman Holiday
  • 12 Angry Men
  • My Fair Lady
  • Casablanca
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  • South Pacific
  • Mary Poppins
  • Sound of Music

Related: Planning a Movie Night for the Elderly

Age-Appropriate Activities

Age-appropriateness should be considered for every activity on our calendars. This ultimately needs to assessed on a case by case basis and will depend on how and why the activity is conducted.

The most important thing is to ensure that the residents are engaged and enjoying the activity.

Watching cartoons, coloring in children's coloring books, and even children's puzzles are inappropriate options to provide residents.

As professionals, we should always be mindful of the age-appropriateness of activities and search for versions of childhood favorites that are suitable for older adults.

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Comments   Post a Comment

Kathy 6th May 2023
For Colbi - It is obvious from your comments that you care about the Residents and want to do the best job you can! This is a wonderful job and we are honoured to be in a position to support our elderly Residents through their ongoing pursuit of recreation and leisure activities!
For all - When I think about what is 'age appropriate' I consider the age and history of the people I work with. These are older adults....not children. Think about how you wish your parent, grandparent, or yourself to be treated when their age.
Think 'meaningful, person-centred activity'. Get to know the Residents to them....their family....friends. Find out what is meaningful for each person? Rather than cartoons (which are primarily made for children), what TV programs/movies would they have watched and enjoyed during their adult years, or new releases they may enjoy now? Rather than nursery rhymes, what songs and poems did they enjoy during their adult years, or would like to learn or create now? Rather than colouring pages, what creative art projects did they enjoy in their adult years, or....would they enjoy learning now....and with real, quality art tools? Rather than preschool craft projects, what handicrafts (ie. weaving, quilting, woodworking, etc.) did they enjoy in their adult years, or would like to learn/experience now?
I encourage you and others to research "Goffman and the infantilization of elderly persons' for more background and insights on this issue. There is a long history of infantilizing Residents in long term care activity programs.....we can and must do better!
arti 26th Feb 2023
Same here .I am experiencing the same thing about the nursery rhymes. I have being told that its childish. My clients have fun when I do different nursery rhymes with them. They said that it reminds them of old times. For me bringing laughter n joy to a clients life is very important. I use this site when I take clients for outing. Please can I have some ideas on emotional and spiritual activities for seniors.
Colby 20th Jun 2019 Activity Aid
Hi I am new to activities, however it is my favorite job because it doesn’t feel like work to me. I found this website to help me come up with things and understand how to run activities better.
But what confuses me the most is the term “Age Appropriate”
I put on Peter Pan (it was a movie on the shelf) for the Memory care unit patients for some reminiscing (also it’s a classic and for most of them it came out when they were kids.) as I know keeping attention is hard with movies I meant it as a background so when we played touch volley ball intending to have fun and talk about the movie as we did that, I noticed residents pointing out parts of the movie and we discussed it as I noticed them remembering things from their past and getting to know them better. My director came in and told me the movie was childish. To turn it off and put on the music channel (And yeah I was a bit offended by that because I felt he wasn’t seeing what I was) later that week I walked in on the memory care unit and saw the nurses had PBS on for the residents (the teaching shows of ABC’s and counting. And the nurses also try to help them remember how to do those things. Another couple days later I came in on my day off and my co worker put on HOOK with robin Williams for the skilled floor to watch. (And I was just so upset) how is that any different then watching the real Peter Pan? How is watching something about someone’s memory being gone and that all you need to do is believe and you’ll get it back appropriate for those who have trouble remembering the time every two minutes?
I’m not grasping what I did being wrong. I’m not grasping how putting on a movie with sex scenes and violence is age appropriate while me putting on classics and even Finding Nemo that is educational but fun, childish. My boss is to busy to explain things fully to me except tell me he’s been doing this for over 20 years. And I know when I’m in a home I would want to watch things that I liked growing up so I try and repeat every day what movies do you like? What music do you like? And I try to get to know everyone better so I can please them and if I please a resident one day with something they enjoy but not another I will come in the next day and do what I know they like. I am so sorry for the long comment but I was hoping someone can fill me in on more detail of age appropriateness. Why hook is better than Peter Pan? Why is black and white films assumed to be a good go to movie when there is so many new ones out many haven’t seen before but love (like finding Nemo) my residents enjoyed that movie and was excited to see something family friendly they’ve never seen before. I understand I’m not going to please everyone but I sure am going to try to. Thank for the time and this article but I’d like to go into more depth in the term “Age appropriate”
Solange 24th Jun 2019 Diversional Therapist
Dear Colby, it is so sad that this sort of situation still happens to Activity staff. You were not wrong with your choice of movie; your director failed to observe that the residents were content and that interference was not necessary. This is what Activity staff do best: elicit a positive response from residents via various activities which often involve reminiscing and revisiting the past. I am sorry this happened to you. Your hurt reveals a person that is very caring and good at your job. I hope that things improve in your workplace for you.
Colby 25th Jun 2019 Activity Aid
That means a lot to hear that. thank you!
Susan 25th Jun 2019 Activity Director
Hi Colby
Age appropriate to me means activities that people enjoy doing
The facts on this have changed over the years
If you do something in the residents seem uninterested and complain then this is not appropriate for this group
Now people talk about a person centered activities instead of age-appropriate
Especially in a memory care unit things that seem childish may be appropriate as long as this is written in their notes
I have had surveyers observing activities and did not see the whole thing then commented that they didn’t think it was appropriate
Luckily I documented that the person enjoyed doing what they observed

I know your boss is very busy but should pay attention to what you say sometimes it is difficult to approach them to explain yourself
This article on golden Carers may help you
Susan 25th Jun 2019 Activity Director
Hi again Colby
I just want to add that it seems like you’re a great activity person
It is not easy to find somebody who is as interested in the residents as you are
I hope you continue to enjoy your job and get pleasure from the residents
Sometimes staff are frustrated and they take it out on you
Don’t let it get you down
Colby 25th Jun 2019 Activity Aid
I definitely have to say thank you so much for the encouraging words, I spent my whole day off yesterday printing pages and making a binder organized for me to be the best at my job from this website.
My boss is super nice and friendly but with my anxiety I just wish I wasn’t thrown into doing activities without proper training and explanations which I’ve explained to him he said when he hires more staff that will happen and I accepted that until then I work with my best abilities.
I definitely am going to take the advice of a daily meeting. But I have been texting him and he doesn’t seem to mind it at all
which has helped with any questions I have.
I am so grateful for him to take a chance with me as I do love this career.
Thank you so much for the responses i definitely do feel I have a better grasp on the term age appropriate then I did before and I love the encouragement! Thank you so much!
Amy 9th Aug 2018 Activity Director
You can also sing nursery rhymes (or other songs) together while you exercise during a morning stretch activity. For example, sing Row Row Row Your Boat while doing a rowing motion with your arms and upper body. The songs and exercises are limitless and can make morning stretch fun for everyone!!
NICOLA(Nicky) 14th Aug 2018 Lifestyle Assistant
Agreed !❤️
Sally 21st Aug 2018 Activities Coordinator
I agree with the exercise use. We use "Row, row..." "The Grand old Duke ....." and "Incy, wincy, spider..." when we do exercise class. If I don't start singing, someone reminds me.
Rita 30th Jul 2018 Rita1234
Great site has been extremely beneficial .. thank you all the wonderful information and ideas
Talita 5th Aug 2018
Thanks so much Rita!
Evangeline 29th Jul 2018 Assistant Manager / Activities Co Ordinator
A brilliant site with lots of taster ‘free’ activities!! When time is limited due to workload this site is invaluable to ensure our wonderful residents have meaningful activities appropriate for them :)
Talita 29th Jul 2018
Thank you so much for your feedback Evangeline! This is very much appreciated!
yasmin 29th Jul 2018 Recreational therapist
This site helped me a lot during our Accreditation. Thank you so much Goldencarers
So much wonderful information
Talita 29th Jul 2018
Thank you Yasmin! We so much appreciate your feedback!
Brandi 24th Jul 2018 Director Of Life Enrichment
I love this site!! Thank you!
Talita 29th Jul 2018
Thank you Brandi!
Molly 22nd Jul 2018 Activity Professional & Writer
Molly shared a new article: Age Appropriate Activities In Senior Care
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