Sensory Activities for Frail Elders – and Their Caregivers

Spice up your activities for those needing special care with sensory activities that are meaningful not only to our elderly, but to caregivers ourselves.  Be forewarned!  If enthusiasm and engagement are what you’re looking for, you’ll get it with these fun and “moving” activities that stir the soul and spirit as well as the body!

Using music, and using it well, is key to the success of some of these activities.  This means that the caregiver should listen carefully to the music he or she chooses to accompany the activities, even to the point of practicing to move in time with the music.  Some of our Agile Aging’s favorite tunes are named below.  You can purchase and download these tunes from iTunes or other online stores.

Here are 5 of our favorites.

• Wool Ball •  Suggested music: Jitterbug Waltz

For chair exercise, hold the ball in two hands.  With a slow tempo, raise the ball as high as possible, then reach forward and fold downwards to lower the ball towards the underneath of the chair. Repeat.

For more chair exercise, open the arms wide to the side, with the ball in one hand.  Rhythmically, raise both arms and change the ball to the other hand, then lower both arms in unision.  Repeat.

For frail elderly, just holding a ball and looking at it are healing.  The warmth of the wool will warm the hands, fondling the ball will loosen grasping, and gazing at the colorful swirls will bring delight.

Buy balls here

• Watercolor Painting To Music • Suggested music: Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofe

Why watercolors? Watercolor paints allow the movement of the water and color together to flow on the page.  Colors might meet and blend, forming a new color.  Shapes are active, changing form and tone.  Non-verbal interactions between the person, the brush, and the color can build interest and engagement.  Yes, it might make a mess.  Yes, some paintings will turn brown or muddy.  But many will be beautiful, as is the process of working in this manner.

Paint one or two paintings per session only.  The first one should be just stripes across the page, as slowly as possible.  The second could be a color study, or a nature painting. Blue/yellow, yellow/red, red/blue are three painting pairings that have surprises when the colors blend.

A nature picture might be a rainbow, a leaf, a flower, a mountain.  Nothing too formed, but open to expressive interpretation with just a few colors.

This is one case where music playing in the background is helpful.  A story is told through the progressive movements of the music suite, and many people will have heard some of it before and will remember it.

Watercolor Painting that Flows

• Humming • Suggested music: your voice

Humming has been scientifically studied to be beneficial to health and healing.  The physical act alone exercises the breathing, clears the sinuses, and oxygenates the blood.

How to start and lead a hum-along?  Just begin.  Choose a tune you know well and that your class might know, too – or they will learn after awhile!  Now, it’s December and Silent Night is an easy tune to hum, or to “la la” to.  Remember to finish the whole song, don’t just fade off or get distracted.  This is vital to the success of the activity.  It has a beginning, middle and end.  In January, Winter Wonderland might be a tune to “la la” with.  Be consistent, and you will see the benefits for you and the ones you work with!

• Hand Dance • Suggested music: The Lovers Waltz

This lovely melody inspires movement and dancing!

For those on their feet, waltz or sway in time to the slow rocking rhythm.

For chair exercise, use a scarf (silk, of course) or ribbon on a stick or wrist elastic to make lovely swirls in the spaces around

For frail elders, either seated or prone, wave a hand or rock from side to side

Hand dancing builds new pathways in the brain

• Rag-A-Round • Suggested music: any familiar big band tune without vocals

First is a crafty project for you or your group: to gather and knot the corners of 8 – 12 scarves or squares of cloth that are really different from one another.  Burlap, velvet, open crochet, plaids, stripes, flowers of different colors and textures are best, but remember to finish the edges with a sewing machine if you’re not using finished scarves or else the fabric will fray into a fine mess.

Seat your group in a circle with each person holding a knot of the fabric circle, begin the music and pass the Rag-A-Round in one direction, allowing everyone to touch and look at the various pieces.  Then, stop the music and ask one of the group to describe what he or she has in his or her hands: what color is it? what fabric? what could a tailor make with this fabric?  what season would you wear a shirt in this fabric? Allow time for memories, stories, and remarks to unfold.  Then start the music up and give it another whirl, and continue until the music ends.  With enough stops and starts, one 4-minute track of music should offer a 15 – 20 minute session.

Thank you to Dorothy Passarella for the Rag-A-Round activity.

Read Sensory Activities for Elderly Men: Men’s Sheds

One thought on “Sensory Activities for Frail Elders – and Their Caregivers

  • July 25, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    These are great ideas! I’m going to try the Rag-a-round for sure.


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