Edna had been bedridden for weeks after taking a bad fall down the stairs. Though she was beginning to get her strength back, she found herself spending most of her recovery time in her comfy recliner. Each day she’d gaze out the window watching the collection of birds congregate around the feeder: watching their tiny movements fascinated Edna; listening to their songs calmed her nerves. As she worked to regain her strength her interest in birds grew. She read books, got binoculars, and began venturing out on daily walks with her caregiver. The promise of spotting new species together gave them something fun to chat about, and the fresh air did Edna a world of good.
It turns out that Edna isn’t alone in her passion for birds—birdwatching is one of the most popular and fastest growing hobbies in North America. Approximately 46 million Americans are fans of the pastime, with a nearly even split between males and females (46% and 54%, respectively). So even though birdwatching might not cross your loved one’s radar immediately, its numerous benefits offer plenty of reasons to give it a try: this low-key activity lets your loved one spend time in nature with a purpose, can be done alone or with others, and inspires gratitude for life’s small gifts.
Why Caregivers Should Encourage Birdwatching
Adaptable to a Variety of Circumstances
Older adults can enjoy birding no matter what their level of mobility may be. Whether your aging loved one is relatively immobile (like Edna was during her recovery) or incredibly active, birdwatching can be adapted to suit their various needs. For older adults on bed rest, caregivers can create a comfortable indoor environment for birdwatching. Rearrange the room with a reclining chair or bed near a window, add a birdfeeder clearly visible from it, and watch the birds flock to your loved one’s view. If they have a balcony, you can also create a small garden with plants to attract native birds. Wheelchair-bound older adults, meanwhile, can enjoy birdwatching together with their caretaker by going on wheelchair accessible strolls in their neighborhood. For those who are fully mobile, birdwatching can offer light to moderate aerobic exercise and cater to different levels of fitness—from slow walks in a flat park to invigorating hikes further away.
Helps Decrease Stress and Anxiety
Spending time in nature is inherently calming. The patience that birdwatching requires only serves to enhance this meditative effect. As birders learn to appreciate nature’s slower pace, it inspires reflection, relaxation, and perspective. The exercise benefits that come from walking outdoors also contribute to increased happiness and energy levels. Its quiet nature can be less stressful for introverts than other activities, while extroverts can also enjoy birdwatching in large groups. Birding can help your loved one connect with themselves, others, and nature as a whole.
Offers Multiple Cognitive Benefits
Birdwatching offers a range of sensory stimulation and memory exercises for older adults. Observing small visual details, noticing patterns in animal behavior, and listening closely to bird songs all help to engage your loved one’s brain. These memory-related tasks enhance older adults’ reflex skills, mental alertness, and can even benefit dementia. A UK-based professional on aging, Maizie Mears-Owen, explains: “Birdwatching can also be a valuable reminiscence activity, with the appearance of certain species and the sounds of bird song evoking memories.”
To begin your birdwatching adventures together, encourage your aging loved one by arming them with the basic tools: a few colorful birding books related to native birds in your area, and some binoculars, if necessary. Investing in a good pair of binoculars can help your loved one get up close and personal with the birds, while reducing eye strain. And if the binoculars are a bit weighty, using them will also help improve their upper body and arm strength. Looking through the books and exploring local bird species in your neighborhood are wonderful bonding activities that can be done anytime.
It’s certainly not surprising why birdwatching is growing in popularity each year: spending time in nature, exercising outdoors, and reflecting on the finer things in life will surely put you and your loved one in a peaceful state of mind.
For families and caregivers seeking to better support their aging loved ones, Institute on Aging offers a range of programs and resources to help. Connect with us today to learn more.