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The hardest thing for my grandparents was leaving their beloved gardens behind when they were forced to live in assisted living. They loved being outdoors and being given opportunities to talk about plants and gardening. I think if the elderly are given opportunities to tap into their interests, their hobbies, and their memories, life is much better for them.
Having worked with the elderly, and presently dealing with my father who is in his 80s, my suggestion is: whatever you do, DO NOT patronize them.
So often, we speak to and treat the elderly as if they were children. Albeit, some who are suffering from some sort of dementia need a little spoon feeding (both literally and figuratively). However, in this youth-worshipping culture...we often put our wise elderly behind closed doors as if we were ashamed of them.
My suggestion is to tap the wisdom and experience they have and pass it on to this and future generations, while giving them a sense of purpose and recognition.
For example, you could have some of the elderly go to schools and speak about "their" time in history. You could have them write/record some kind of biography about their lives. You could get them to volunteer on voting day at the polls...or with local area students.
I just came back from visiting my uncle, who lives in what could be considered an upscale retirement center. He is 87 years young, but quite active and, mentally, just as vital as he was when he was a practicing attorney. At the "retirement center," they have political debates, movie nights, guest speakers, guest musicians, and (apparently) work on a lot of jigsaw puzzles. However, the best cultural program was a singing group they put together themselves. Ranging in age from 78-95, this vocal ensemble didn't tackle hymns or old big band standards: Their choices were thoroughly modern (Lady Gaga, Black Eyed Peas), mixed with some Beatles and other rock and R&B. I'm not sure how their performances went over on their home turf, but they were invited to several large civic shows (one in which several thousand young people were in attendance) where they were wildly appreciated. The kids apparently got a real kick out these octegenarians singing songs that many of them had never even heard before they began practicing. After more than a dozen original performances, the group has set some more dates--at other retirement centers and assisted living homes. Sometimes the best outlet for the aged is to actually get active and do the performing themselves.
A friend of mine belongs to an antique car club. They go to old folk's homes and put the cars on display, allowing the old folks to sit in the cars. It is a big success, stimulating many memories and good times. Then they can share their memories with each other.
Brain stimulation in the form of bingo, quizzes, pictionary or charades are also good ideas as these would encourgae group involvement and keep minds ticking over.
In the same vein, art and drama are also useful media through which a cultural program could be presented. Anything with color and life and energy would be appreciated by the elderly in a nursing home or other old-age facility. My experience with the elderly tells me it would not take much to make an impression and give them plenty to talk about--until the next show.
Music is a wonderful idea. And I think perhaps a "story hour" might be a good idea, too. This could be done with short stories or with a series of chapter readings from a good book. The residents who wanted to read could volunteer to do once in a while, too. And who knows? You might get a good book discussion going.
Your question is a little vague, so I'm not sure exactly what kind of suggestions you are looking for, but in general, musical programs are often very valuable for senior citizens. Piano performances, taking them to a classical music performance, or jazz, or another form of music they can relate to but may not be able to see very often from a nursing home are all good ideas. Music, besides being enjoyable, stimulates brain function in specific areas of the brain, and is closely associated with memory and pleasure centers in the mind.
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