Senior Games: Fun and Mental Stimulation for Older Parents and Grandparents in Assisted Living


I remember my grandmother played Canasta with a group of ladies. They cleaned their apartments, polished the silver, made the glassware sparkle, and served lovingly-prepared food and of course, deserts. They shared camaraderie, if not their special, secret recipes.

A modern-day version is going on with one group of 70-year-olds. Seems like a good idea. They just have fun–playing tile games (eg. rummy cube) once a month. They contribute pot-luck for the luncheon. No stress. No competition. “Not like bridge,” said one player. “We talk and play. The games take more luck than strategy.”

Many contemporaries play bridge–either because they love it or they believe it will help memory. This sparked my thinking about last Saturday’s post: Senior games and Cognitive Gains. My playing-for-fun friend is also a bridge player, who plays bridge with her friend’s 90+-year-old, vision-impaired mother at least once a month.

Thoughts turn to my 88-year-old cousin in assisted living 3,000 miles away. She’s alone a lot; doesn’t avail herself of many of the facility’s activities. Her choice. Her reasons. For example, she plays Bingo on scheduled days, but doesn’t attend movies (she enjoys movies) because she says the chairs are uncomfortable for her.

A conversation with a staff member informs me the “Bingo chairs” are near the “movie chairs” and she could just move one over. Of course, her mobility problems won’t allow that kind of “just moving.” She’s evidently reluctant to ask for help (and evidently no staff person offers).

It may not make sense to us, but it does to her–and that needs to be our mindset. Some people thrive in assisted living. Others don’t. Could the boredom problem that be partially solved by fun games that we could bring over?

Vintage Selright Selchow & Righter 1948 Scrabble GameWhen we visit care facilities why can’t we take a board game or cards with us, perhaps play while there, then leave the game?  I’m thinking there are often old Scrabble games in homes. My cousin does crossword puzzles by herself. Would she enjoy Scrabble? or Anagrams? So what if her short-term memory isn’t so good. Anagrams is mnemonic. Memory might improve.

I’ll phone her most devoted daughter (I live far away), and gently suggest–if she doesn’t have a Scrabble set–that she take some cards and perhaps play gin rummy with her mother. It’s a 2-player card game that they both once played. There must be loads of other games out there. I’ll also mention the movie attendance issue.

Assisted Living Helpful Gestures

Click to enlarge

P.S. Several years ago I asked this cousin what gifts people in assisted living would like. (I was thinking ahead about the holidays.) She made a short list that I included on a post that year.

She was new to assisted living then. Friends would pick her up weekly to play cards, go to the movies, have lunch etc. I saved the list. I notice “play games” is on line 3.

At the time I wasn’t thinking that at least one item on her list would be useful to know about—-now.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Making it Better for Parents in Assisted Living

 Is “assisted living” a euphemism for warehousing aging parents in an attractive place where we think they’ll be well taken care of? The PBS documentary “Life and Death in Assisted Living” is, I certainly hope, not the norm. What is the norm (and not the fault or responsibility of the assisted living facility’s administrators) may be the inattentiveness on the part of adult children once their parents are in assisted living.

Is it purposeful? Do children’s caring instincts become numb when many daily-living responsibilities are handed over to others (the facility in this instance)? On my yearly summer trips west, I have the advantage of seeing people (young and old) whom I haven’t seen in a year. My mind’s eye and my mental makeup record people as they were a year ago. Then there’s the present. In some instances it was heartening; at other times, downright depressing. Assisted living accounted for the latter.

As young parents, it’s easier to get on with our lives when our children are put in daycare with a responsible person, and then preschool etc. etc. But of course at the end of the day children come home and demand a certain amount of interaction and normalcy prevails. Is it a stretch to say that an unknown number of adult children get on with their lives when their still mentally capable parents are in assisted living? And they forget the importance of daily normalcy–whether in assisted living or not.

No doubt every family has members who are tone deaf to this. Hopefully every family also has others who find it easy to contribute normalcy or could contribute but only know how to pay a visit.

Diane Ackerman , poet, essayist wrote “I don’t want to be a passenger in my own life.”

Unless parents are resourceful and take advantage of the many activities that fill a page on the weekly assisted living calendar, they can easily become a passenger in their own life. That becomes depressing.

Trying to get along within the confines of their assisted living space, with but a fragment of their old furniture and their old life, can be depressing.  And anti-depressants (which I’m guessing many take), don’t change the institutional setting, different routine, lack of interactions with family and long-time friends–the lack of normal  (as they knew it) life.

5  Family Must do’s When Elders are in Assisted Living

1. Friends or family interaction (in person) on a daily basis can alleviate some of the isolated, lonely feeling. and bring moments of normalcy. Assign people to visit each day; possibly offer suggestions to those who may lack the creativity to go it alone.  Those suggestions could include:
Talking Points: Years ago a good friend of my husband’s always brought a list of “talking points” when they’d meet. It sparks conversations and is a reminder of what’s important to share.

2. Visiting and acting like a visitor may not provide real interaction.
–What about bringing a deck of card, a game (Scrabble?), or a crossword puzzle to work together to stimulate the mind and add some normal fun? Leave the cards, games, puzzles there for the next visit.

3. Taking assisted-living residents out of the facility as often as possible each week so they are still in touch with “normal.”  Suggestions: A meal; sitting somewhere and people watching; watching a movie in a movie theater; visiting a friend; attending a grandchild’s sporting event or play or concert; or walking through a garden center or a park; or going shopping with those who have decent mobility

4.  Sometime family visitors busy themselves taking care of things (making the bed, straightening up) instead of interacting with person they’ve come to visit. It may not be appreciated. Taking dirty laundry home (if you are good at at laundry) is appreciated, but busying yourself while coming to visit?—no. If you’re compulsive about doing something work-related, asking when/if convenient is respectful.

5. Understand medications and their side-effects. Nix the antidepressants if they’re not absolutely necessary. (Isn’t it legitimate to be depressed when surrounded by elder, needy people day in, day out in assisted living?) Understanding the degree of depression is key. Knowing an anti-despressent’s side-effects is just plain smart. Talk with the doctor if in doubt about the necessity of an anti-depressent (if your parent is taking one) and about side effects of all current medications.

When living at home jeopardizes life and limb and honest, competent home care givers aren’t possible, assisted living is the fallback. But–also–check out the aging in place information below.

Technololgy to help parents remain in their homes

PBS News Hour Video August 8, 2013–There’s No Place Like Home: Seniors Hold on to Urban Independence Into Old Age

More about Beacon Hill

Note: “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities about cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.


PBS’s: “Life and Death in Assisted Living”–When Assisted Living Doesn’t Help Parents Age Well

At some point I’m guessing most of us have thought about assisted living–either as a future option if adequate help is unavailable or we know people who reside there. (FYI assisted living is home to 750,000 American seniors.)

The people I’ve known are there primarily because of mobility issues or problems with balance. That said, I have an 88-year-old relative who has been in assisted living for several years, initially due to a series of minor falls and irreversible vision problems. At this point she says she’s having memory problems. Of course this is not unique as people age, whether in assisted-living or not. It’s what happens next that could be problematical.

I didn’t know what to expect this past Tuesday, when I watched PBS’s FRONTLINE report: “Life and Death in Assisted Living.” FRONTLINE focused on the largest of the assisted living companies, Emeritus. (Specifics about  the company are in the “chat” link below.) The assumptions families make about assisted living care vs. the reality are understandable, but….

Issues addressed regarding inadequate care and staff training were an eye-opener. One possible explanation: assisted living facilities are not regulated (nursing homes are). In the “live chat” the next day, one speaker compared assisted living regulation to day care center regulation 40 years ago.

Watch the program–

Link to the next day’s live chat text– (Text of the dialog is especially good as we can refer to it again,) Two adult children featured in the PBS program take part.

Check out the resource guide Next Avenue put together “to help people evaluate facilities and learn about assisted living”–

Learn the 7 questions to ask when looking for assisted living —

Learn about FATE (Foundation Aiding the Elderly) 

PBS has provided an important “heads up” as we try to help parents age well.  Thoughts?

Autumn Ideas to Energize Aging Parents– A Focus on the 5 Senses:Taste

How often do we indulge ourselves with something that appeals to our taste buds when we’re feeling down? It brings a temporary lift and energizes us, doesn’t it?

Tasty food seems to temper the unpleasant and boost our energy. For example, I always tried to have coffee, tea and really good goodies available when I ran parent groups for parents of high school students who had problems. Members seemed to come together more eagerly–and never miss a meeting–to address serious problems. After a few meetings, parents volunteered to bring the goodies. Is it a stretch to say they sweetened the atmosphere to deal with difficult issues?

Can satisfying the sense of taste, by providing aging parents’ favorite foods, help lift parents out of the autumn doldrums ?
–it certainly can’t hurt.

While we concentrate on living-alone older parents and friends who don’t like autumn/fall and the months that follow, I’m guessing that older parents who still have their spouse, tolerate autumn doldrums better than those living alone.  Of course the goal is the same for all: lift spirits and energize by pleasing the senses–in this case, taste.

Assisted Living and Rehab Facilities

I know of no-one in assisted living or in a rehab facility who loves the food, although I believe it’s nutritious and well-balanced. So bringing in favorite food(s) should provide a “lift.”

Had Dad ever been in assisted living, I would have taken him (weekly) a corned beef sandwich on rye on one occasion and New England clam chowder on another, and I would have asked him for additional requests. I probably would have asked a family member to coordinate with me and bring another kind of soup–or even stew– on a different day. The latter microwave easily and can last for several meals.  OK…’nuff said.

When a parent lives alone being aware of nutrition and healthy diet may help dictate the selection of favorite foods. As noted elsewhere, Mother sipped water; didn’t drink enough–so I bought flavored water, which she really liked. It was easy to leave her with a dozen bottles of her favorite flavors.

She also loved sweets, but diabetes was an issue, so I carefully selected as many flavors of no-sugar ice cream as I could find and she chose her favorites which I kept replenished  for her. I never blended slurpees for her, but probably should have. She loved and could eat fruit and–from what I can tell–stevia is an OK sweetener to add to the blend.

We know our parents favorite foods. If we’re creative we can provide them in different ways.  For example, a friend, whose wife is very ill, apprised her favorite restaurant of the situation, and–on occasion–brought “carry-out” of her favorite main course (even though the restaurant doesn’t have “carry out”). Why? Is it because people in the food business realize how much something that tastes good can energize and raises spirits?

Whether it’s apple cider, flavored water, slurpees, soup, stew, sweets or a prepared meal, bringing aging parents an edible favorite should provide a “lift”–pleasing one of the senses: taste. Certainly worth a try when the days become shorter and darker.

–Until Saturday with ideas for the remaining 4 senses……

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Help Aging Parents with One Short, Stimulating Outing

One of my cousins is in assisted living. This cousin has always been a favorite. She’s much older than I (Dad was next-to-the youngest of 7 children) and was unfailingly caring and welcoming to all family members in her younger days.

Still vacationing in the northwest, I wanted to do something special with her. I decided on lunch at a restaurant and a visit to the Oregon Historical Society in the city she lived in for the better part of her life…and still lives in–Portland, Oregon.
English: Entrance to the Oregon Historical Soc...

English: Entrance to the Oregon Historical Society Museum in Portland, Oregon, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It would:
  • be easy to navigate with a walker
  • provide exercise,
  • not overtire her
  • be something she could relate to and think about after our time together ended.

New museums have media and technological innovations that many in their eighties are unacquainted with.  From voices as a section is entered– to sounds of nature and music–to interactive displays. In the case of the the Oregon Historical Society I knew the small recreated 40’s and 50’s rooms would resonate with her, so too an old black and white TV that played–I think–an old Ozzie and Harriet program. And there’s a replica of the city’s light rail car one sits in, complete with video taking the viewer along–I presume–one of its routes.

My cousin was a “bobby soxer” during the war years and the display of the war years’ staples (uniforms, headlines reproduced on the walls, photos, dishes, caps worn by department stores’ delivery people etc. etc.) brought back a bygone era that evoked memories…….sweet. Then there was the typewriter that reminded her of the one her father gave her for her 16th birthday. And on and on.

I know the museum experience was meaningful and suggested she might want to ask one of her children (the one in the family who’s interested in the family history) to bring her back, since we couldn’t see everything in one visit.

She admits (when asked directly) that she’s bored at the assisted living facility, even though they have many planned activities. No doubt like so many people of “the greatest generation” (thanks Tom Brokaw), she doesn’t want to bother her attentive children. On the other hand, I think her children might like doing something different with her. It’s easy to get accustomed to routines. We forget some of the options right in our own back yard.

We help parents age well by adding stimulation to their lives. For me, this was really easy; for my cousin it wasn’t the same-ol, same-ol. For both of us, it was a great way to spend an hour after lunch.

Help Aging Parents: Their Private Concerns as 2011 Ends and 2012 Begins

Seattle New Years Eve Fireworks 2011

“With the new year approaching, what are your thoughts about the past year and the upcoming new year?”

This question was asked of a sampling of aging women, whose introspective, candid responses offer insights into sadness, concerns, resignation and hopes. Some live independently in their homes; others in assisted living.  While the contrast is understandable, it surprised me initially.

  • “It was a wonderful year because I kept well and mobile, which is important not only to exist, but to live. I hope I get through to another new year–the future can close in on you. Not everyone can live to be 100.” (86)
  • “All I know is you have to hope and pray things will get better. The country is so torn apart. I try to live my life in such a way that I still am in charge and I’m still involved. But there’s a certain amount of fear that I will lose this independence.” (90’s)
  • “Christmas (December) isn’t the greatest time to be an older person. Cards come in from friends–some aren’t well, then a card comes from only Jean–not Jean and Richard and I realize Richard had been ill and has obviously died….

There’s a melancholy about the pastyou have more memories than you have plans. You know certain things aren’t practical, possible. Big chunks of things that make life happy aren’t there any more…I push it out of my mind, telling myself how lucky I am…I must draw on the resources I have.

So I look forward to the new year when things return to normal and I volunteer at the church and do another volunteer job. A big part of life is plans and future. Without plans, a date on a calendar doesn’t mean anything.” (early 80’s)

  • “The world is—ugh! I don’t like listening to the news. And lately I’ve heard of so many people I know falling. You don’t know what’s going to happen next.” (89)
  • “It’s not comfortable living in this world with all of its problems. Some nights I go to bed and don’t want to wake up. Looking forward: I’m concerned about my children–will they remain close, how will they be after I go.” (83)
  • “My husband is very ill.” Looking forward: “I’m hoping he passes away before I do because he couldn’t handle things alone.” (78)
  • “I feel like I’ve been put here by my children.” Looking forward: “I worry about my grandchildren’s future…the kind of world it will be.”
  • “I’m lucky I got this far  (after serious health issues) and got to meet my new great-grandchild…and hope I’ll be around to watch her grow next year. I’m feeling sorry for myself–I ended up here. I don’t like feeling this way. Then I look at the picture of that beautiful baby and I’m glad I’m here” (86).

As we make our New Year’s resolutions, the above may provide ideas  when thinking about helping our aging parents. There’s uncertainty ahead as always, but perhaps more of it in today’s world for both young and old….but then again, there’s also hope.  May 2012 be a good year for you and your aging parents as we try to help parents age well.

(PS. The first 4 responses are from people living independently; the last 4 are from those in assisted living.)


Unintended Consequences as We Try to Help Aging Parents

When Aging Parents Move and We Try to Help–Telephones! 

Will Our Telephone # Move Too?

Unlike cell numbers, hard-wired telephone numbers don’t necessarily follow to a new residence–even when it’s not far from the previous residence. For aging parents, telephone numbers need to follow from the “get-go.” Obvious? Perhaps. Under stressful conditions–perhaps not.Unintended consequences, are just that. We don’t think about them until we’re left with the damage control. And if we’re responsible as we try to help aging parents, it’s easy to become angry with ourselves for creating additional problems that disappoint parents and can unnecessarily involve siblings.


An 85-year-old relative recently moved from her condo to assisted living–not a move she initiated. Several months of worsening mobility problems and a series of hospitalizations jeopardized living alone.

The last several years she and her 3 grown children had discussed the wisdom of moving. Friends in her condo complex had died or moved. And there was an attractive independent-living place nearby, making it easy to maintain her routines.

My relative is smart, organized, active, loved her condo of 40+ years and hung on to her independence–through many serious health events.  But last month her doctors advised she needed assisted–not independent–living. She gave in and asked her children to arrange for the move while she recovered in a hospital.

What’s a telephone got to do with it?

To reiterate from past posts, connections to others is one of the 3 most important factors in healthy aging. And telephones provide a major way of connecting with others. Indeed older people may have their friends’ numbers on automatic dial as memories fade.

My relative’s caring, efficient children notified the phone company to close her account immediately.  It was an easy thing to cross off a long list. But suddenly they realized friends couldn’t contact her.  She had a completely new phone number at the assisted-living facility, which used another provider.

Think about new phone numbers being a problem for aging parents and grandparents who downsize (and for their aging/old friends).  If they remain in the same area of their city/town and stay with the same phone company it’s more likely that the phone number won’t change. Simply tell the phone company that although the address is changing, your parents want to keep the same #.

1.  However, do not notify the phone company to stop an aging/old parent’s existing phone service before asking if they can transfer the old telephone number to the new address. Otherwise the existing phone number can be given away.

2.  Check out–ahead– the phone system/provider at the new place. When an institution has its own system or a different phone provider, it may be best to ask the person in charge to take care of having your parents’ old phone number transferred immediately if it’s doable. This eliminates having aging parents in a new living situation feel even more isolated because friends can’t phone them.

My relative’s children report it was a hassle to get the old phone number back–took 3 weeks to accomplish.  “We were just lucky,” they added.  (It may not be this difficult everywhere.)

It was simpler back in the day, when “Reach out and touch someone” was part of a well-known telephone ad; when accessing a live human being on the other end of a business’s line was the norm. Never-the-less we can prevent unintended consequences and, in the case of telephones, maintain that connectedness so important for older people’s aging well. It doesn’t take too much effort…when we have a “heads up.” Otherwise, it pays (to use an old Revlon nail polish ad) to “Make haste slowly.”