Fall Activity Ideas for Seniors
Whether you are providing constant care for an aging parent, sharing the responsibilities with family members, or are simply needing to stop over more and more frequently to check on a parent’s general welfare or physical condition, once happy visits can become difficult and strained. This is a very normal evolution because rather than simply talking or visiting with a parent and enjoying each other’s company, the focus tends to shift to providing assistance with things within the home that a parent may need – a “working visit” with less and less emphasis on the visiting piece.
As your relationship with an aging parent shifts and places you in the caregiver position, it is very important – for everyone involved – to try to keep the visits fresh and stress free. If you are visiting one time per week or more, try using a calendar to create a schedule that includes free time or activity time. Employ the help of grandchildren if you can, including them in both the chores that need to be done and special activities you plan. Keep in mind that your parent very likely experiences a certain amount of guilt in asking for help. Creating a schedule for providing help that includes “family time” can be a catalyst for the way all of you view your time together. It is very important for all of you to create beautiful memories and moments during this time of your parent’s aging or illness so that your parent’s last years with you are not fraught with stress or even resentment.
Here are some fun fall activity ideas and ways to spend time with an aging parent that will help create memories that will make all of you smile.
- Take a Trip Down Memory Lane
If your parent has spent a lifetime, or even a significant portion of a lifetime, in the same general geographic area, a ride in the car for a trip down memory lane can be a lot of fun. Fall is the perfect time for this because so often we attribute a new sense of beginning to the start of a school year. If you already have a good sense of your parent’s history, you can make a list of potential stops ahead of time. If not, use whatever resources you have available to create a list, including your parent, relatives, photo albums or scrapbooks. You can drive by or stop near the home where your parent grew up, an elementary school or high school, a first job or long-help job, places your parent spent time as a teenager, for example. Ask your parent to share special stories about the locations and people who were important at that location. Snap a photo if you can. You will learn quite a bit about your parent while giving them the thrill of revisiting their past in a special way.
- Visit an Apple Orchard, Pumpkin Patch, or Drive to See the Foliage
There are some amazing apple orchards and pumpkin patches that are open to the public every fall. Do some research to find one that is near you. If you have a parent that is substantially mobile, or have access to a wheelchair or scooter, this can be a fabulous way to spend a morning or afternoon. You don’t need to spend an entire day. Just one hour might be all you need. Apple orchards that allow you to pick your own apples generally have trees accessible close by or offer visitors transportation to and from the trees, as do those who allow you to “pick” your own pumpkin. Call ahead to see if they have special arrangements for seniors or the disabled and take advantage of what they offer. Many also offer products for sale such as pie, cider, or apple butter. Some even have crafts and fall decorations for sale.
Even if your parent is not able to navigate an orchard or pumpkin patch and making a trip would be difficult, you can take advantage of the season by simply driving through areas that display the beautiful colors of the changing leaves. In Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources publishes a fall foliage guide for the parks here, as does Explore Minnesota in the online guide found here. City and county parks are another great place to see fall foliage, as are scenic driving routes like a stretch of road along a riverbank. You can soak up the colors of the season from the car and end up with memories of a beautiful fall day.
- Do A Craft Project Together
Fall craft projects abound online. Pinterest is chock full of fun, easy, and inexpensive craft projects geared toward fall, autumn, harvest, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Run a search online for a crafts geared toward seniors and your search results will yield some great ideas. Watch for coupons from local craft shops or check online for coupons. If you’d prefer to get your parent out of the house for a craft project field trip, there are many companies that offer unique opportunities for painting ceramics or pottery, canvas painting, or glass fusing. There are companies like this scattered everywhere. Try using the search term ceramic or “adult painting parties” followed by the state where you live. It’s a unique way to spend time and you have a remembrance of the day in whatever you create!
- Bake or Make Meals Together
Everyone needs to eat, but cooking or baking doesn’t have to be a chore and can actually be fun. Fall is an excellent opportunity to do holiday baking, particularly if you want to make something that includes apples or pumpkins. You can find one of the most incredible recipes for Downeast Maine Pumpkin bread at All Recipes.com. Maybe you’d prefer apple crisp or an apple pie, or make homemade applesauce or apple butter. Tis the season for all of these tasty delights!
If baking is not your preference, consider making meals with your parent. Plan ahead and shop for 2 or 3 predetermined meals. You can prepare the meals together and divide them up for quick and easy meal choices later in the week. At the same time, you get the assurance that your parent is eating at least a few well-prepared, nutritious meals. You can find inexpensive containers for a single meal at most dollar stores, but BEWARE. If you use these, be sure to read the labels to make sure they are microwave safe. You should also clearly mark the top of the container in some way the reminds your parent it is not a “TV dinner” and should not be put in the oven. While you’re at it, it’s always a good idea to indicate what is inside and put a date on it – especially if you are freezing the meals.
- Play Board Games
The autumn weather can sometimes be cool or wet enough to put a chill in your plans for an excursion or field trip. The sun goes down sooner and we tend to settle in at the end of the day earlier than we do on summer evenings. On those days or evenings, consider playing a board game or a card game with your parent. Games are like exercise for the mind. You can choose from board games like checkers or chess, Monopoly or Pictionary. You can put together a puzzle. My grandfather loved to play Connect Four, which is basically a vertical game of checkers. Look at games that your parent may have played as a young person, like Parcheesi or Sorry. Some memory games may be a challenge for a parent who has dementia or Alzheimer’s but it can be equally beneficial. Matching games uses playing cards or picture cards is a good example. There are games available specifically designed to jog the memory. Regardless of the game you choose, it can be a fun alternative to watching a movie or reading together. Again, if you have children, having them play along can make for a larger group and more fun.
- Carve or Paint a Pumpkin
You are never too old to enjoy carving or painting pumpkins. You can pick up a pumpkin in almost any size at either a pumpkin patch or a local grocery store. Many places carry both orange pumpkins and white pumpkins. In addition, you can typically pick up inexpensive, safe carving utensils, as well as simple paints and brushes, from local dollar stores. If you want to get creative, you can download tracing patterns online. The Pumpkin Lady has over 700 free patterns you can download here. If the patterns are more intricate and require a sharper knife and you’re concerned about safety, have your parent trace the pattern while you do the actual cutting. After you have cut the top, you and your parent can work together to clean out the pumpkin seeds. While you finish cutting any intricate patterns, have your parent separate the seeds into a bowl. Roasted pumpkin seeds are a wonderful snack, and you will find an easy recipe to make sure they turn out perfect here. If you have a lot of seeds, you can put some in small baggies and tie a ribbon around it to give as small gifts to friends.
- Have a Fall Picnic
You don’t need to have a fancy picnic basket and a perfect spot under a perfect tree to have a fall picnic. You simply need a nice day with mild temperatures. When your parent was young, and often still today, people referred to very warm fall days as “Indian summer.” Those are the days that are perfect for a picnic. Pack lunches with sandwiches or crackers, fruit, meat and cheese. You can use small food storage containers for pasta salad, potato salad, or cole slaw. Bring along napkins and plastic spoons, as well as some water bottles or juice, and you are all set! You can choose a park that has spectacular views and lay out a blanket, or look for a location with picnic tables. If you decide you would prefer to stay at home for your picnic, set up a little area in the backyard, on an apartment balcony, or in an outdoor common area of a living facility. If your parent lives in an assisted living or skilled care facility, speak to the staff about preparing a picnic lunch, as well as possible locations for a picnic. If it is not possible to get a special lunch prepared, bring one along with you.
In order to set the “tone” for your picnic, you might want to bring along a blanket. Even if your parent is not able to sit on the blanket, it adds the “feel” of a picnic to the outing. Depending upon what your parent is able to do physically and what your parent is able to eat, you could get pretty clever. Maybe a thermos with coffee, apple cider, or hot cocoa? Perhaps you have a large basket you could use as a make-shift picnic basket? You could use plates (paper or the real deal). It does not really matter whether you over-do this or just plan something very simple and easy. It could be quite a lot of fun for both of you and very likely your parent will be absolutely tickled by it!
- Get Outdoors and Take Pictures
Fall is one of the most colorful, beautiful seasons. If your parent is mobile or if you are able to use a wheelchair, walker, scooter or other assistive device, try to get outside and take some pictures. You do not need to employ a professional photographer. You can make it an amateur photography day and simply use a phone, tablet or other mobile device to snap some shots of your parent with a fall color display in the background. Mobile phones and other mobile devices can take pictures that are as good as a small camera. If you are in a place like a park where there are other people, take advantage of it and have a stranger snap pictures of you and your parent together. Most people are more than willing to do help you out. If you plan ahead, bring a plaid blanket or even a prop or two. Add grandchildren to the pictures. You will never regret taking the time to get these photos, and if they turn out better than you hoped or expected, you can help your parent put them in a cute frame and give them as gifts to close friends or relatives. You could also share then by loading them on a tablet or iPad that belongs to your parent. Life is fast and life is funny. Never miss out on a great photo opp!
Be ever on the look-out for great activity ideas that you can do with a parent who is aging. Old age does not have to been dry, dull, and boring. Engage your loved one. Spice things up. Schedule “family time” in the course of providing care and assistance to your parent or loved one.
And please, feel free to share stories or photos of any activities that have been particularly fun or memorable for you and a parent or loved one!
© 2015 CareAparent™
All rights reserved. No part or portion of this article can be reprinted without the express written permission of the CareAparent.™
Lisa McLeod Lofquist is an attorney in St. Paul, Minnesota and co-founder of CareAparent™, a home care agency for seniors. Contact Lisa by email at lisa.lofquist@careAparent.com.