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

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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.

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Hospitals, Care Facilities: What We Don’t Want for Aging Parents–a true story Part 1

Can we know what’s happening when parents can’t advocate for themselves in hospitals and care facilities?

An upsetting last stage of life is precisely what we don’t want–for aging parents or anyone else. Several decades ago I spent a night as a patient in a non-private room at one of America’s best (and overcrowded that night) teaching hospitals. I took quick notes and shortly thereafter wrote this piece, long before aging parents were part of my life. It just surfaced when I unpacked the last box from our move. Hopefully things have changed, but have they? If not, how can we know? Are health care proxies the answer? Do our parents have them?

Not a sound was heard, yet the forms of her tiny legs agitating up and down under the white hospital sheets gave testimony to her distress. The medical resident, intently bending over her small body, tried yet another time to insert the IV needle into her vein.

Mrs. S, a stroke vicim in her 70’s, managed to wrest free of her IV. This was the second round of attempting to reintroduce it since the newly arrived nurse on the afternoon shift discovered it had come out.

“When did it come out?” she questioned. “Where could it have gone?” (It was  behind Mrs. S’s tiny body, under the covers.) Thus began the first in a series of attempts to insert the IV, with never a sound uttered by Mrs. S, who didn’t–or couldn’t–speak any more.  Only her legs betrayed her feelings.

Later that evening the medical resident’s cheery “How are you, Mrs. S?” (no answer) awakened me to another ordeal. He explained how she needed to swallow a tube because “you have to eat.” A discussion ensued between the resident and a nurse about the difficulty of her swallowing this particular tube. 

I sensed one felt if Mrs. S. didn”t want to, she shouldn’t have to. Nevertheless, I assume hospital policy or something required that attempt after attempt–with some intermittent choking (“that’s good, it will help your mucous”)–be made.

At one point the resident remarked: “Why are you looking so angrily at me? I’m only trying to help you.” I was beyond upsetI unravelled my own IV tubes, got out of bed, and pushed my IV pole as quickly as possible around the medical people, past Mrs. S, and out of the room.

I spotted an intern. “I think it’s morally reprehensible what they’re doing to Mrs. S,” I said. “She has to eat. It’s good to leave the room if it upsets you,” he responded.

Mrs. S. ultimately swallowed the tube but this did not end the attention paid her. Still later that evening another voice awakened me. “Mrs. S, I’m Dr. K. I know we’re doing lots of things that seem like we’re being mean to you, but we’re making it better for you.  I’m coming back to get some blood later and if you relax it will make it much easier. Close your eyes if you understand what I’m saying to you. Close them tight.”

Indeed blood was drawn (not easily) later and still not a sound was uttered; yet everyone seemed aware of Mrs. S’s silent resistance and suffering. Just before her 11 o’clock shift ended the nurse came in to check her patients. “Mrs. S. has managed to get her tube out again,” she stated. “Maybe she’s trying to tell us something, I responded. “I’m sure she is,” the nurse replied.

I wondered about her family. I became acquainted with them late the next afternoon–unavoidable eavesdropping through the curtain that separated our beds.

…………Continued and concluded tomorrow.