For seven years, I was a caregiver for an older woman with rheumatoid arthritis. She was happy to have me around to help her with the daily tasks that had become difficult, such as preparing her meals, decluttering the house, and even going through her mail and writing to her grandkids. But there were certain things she loved to do that just wouldn’t be the same if I did them for her. For example, she could no longer manage the fine brushwork on the models she used to paint, and she could no longer play the piano because her hands became sore quickly.
Aging already brings the challenge of reimagining our abilities and our roles in life. That can shake our sense of identity to begin with, but when we can no longer do the things we love the way we used to do them, it can put us even more out of touch with ourselves. This kind of isolation can be powerful and confusing. But caregivers can help support new or modified hobbies for seniors with arthritis. We can help to empower our aging loved ones to stay connected to their evolutionary journeys and to discover the fresh life and beauty in the transition.
Activity Ideas and Hobbies for Seniors with Arthritis
In many cases, there is a way to modify a favorite hobby so that an older adult with arthritis can still enjoy it. But not always. Here are some suggestions for adapting hobbies and for discovering new ones. Starting something fresh may be just the spark your aging loved one needs to thrive and feel alive.
Gardening can be made more suitable for arthritis if you are working with raised beds and containers rather than having to reach all the way down into the ground. It also helps to have tools with long handles and soft grips. Opt for low-maintenance, high-yield plants; you can get advice on these types of plants in your area from the local nursery or from a local community gardening group. Read more here about how community gardening activities can inspire aging adults to get connected and eat healthy.
If cooking is a hobby that has become difficult for your aging loved one, it may be time to invest in some kitchen tools that will do some of the strenuous work for them. Or it may be time to start working together so you can take over some of the harder tasks. You can also direct some of this same passion in the direction of pulling together favorite recipes and even compiling a book to share with family and friends. Your aging loved one’s love of food can also be shared with community meals that are more about eating, socializing, and enjoying the sensory delights than about preparing the food.
If you find the right style, yoga is a fairly low-impact form of exercise that also helps individuals become more aware of their body experience and keep moving to loosen and warm up the joints and muscles. Gentle Hatha and Iyengar yoga are good styles and classes to start with. Be sure to speak to the instructor beforehand to make sure the class is appropriate and adaptable for the older adult in your care. An even better start might be chair yoga, which tends to slow things down even more and makes way for plenty of adaptations. This is something you can do in a class or together at home with this simple chair yoga practice.
Arts and Crafts
When it comes to arts and crafts, the possibilities are endless, and there is rarely one right way to do something, so you can adapt it for your needs. Here is a guide to arts and crafts activities for seniors. But the fun doesn’t stop there. Help and encourage your aging loved one to experiment with different artistic styles and media.
Whether an older adult has had a passion for writing in the past or not, sitting to journal reflections or even to write a memoir of their life story can be a really great way for them to connect with who they are in the here and now. Consider looking for local classes and opportunities to get involved in writing for seniors, and check out this list of easy memoir writing prompts that you can start together right now at home. Technology can offer seniors with arthritis alternatives if writing by hand is too difficult. Look for talk-to-text software, so they can speak their draft for the computer to put into writing.
If sitting for long period of time to read used to be a passion but now will not work for an aging adult, consider ways that audiobooks might inspire brand new activities and energy. Perhaps you could set up an audiobook with headphones, so they can listen to it while you take a walk. You might even look into social opportunities around books and reading, so they can continue to engage in that love with the bonus of community. Check out local library reading programs and other book groups.
When certain physical activities are out of reach for your aging loved one, it may be a great chance to shift some of that activity to the mind. Seniors can benefit greatly from memory exercises and other kinds of unique cognitive stimulation. Regular conversation is an important part of keeping the brain active, so socialization at a day program or other community activity is important. It might also be fun for an older adult to learn a new language. Here are some suggestions of fun memory exercises you and your loved one can do together.
As we get older and our roles shift, we may not have as many opportunities to serve and care for others as we once did. This can leave us feeling disconnected from our very sense of self. But there are always creative ways to continue giving and serving, and caregivers can help aging adults to stay connected to these opportunities. Find some tips and creative volunteering suggestions for seniors here.
As they age, many adults become discouraged when they can no longer move and flow as they used to—especially when it comes to dancing. It is true that with arthritis, certain moderate-to high-intensity styles of dance are too hard on the body. But there are some styles, such as ballroom and line dancing, that may still work for some. If you think your aging loved one would benefit, seek out some classes and social dance opportunities for seniors.
Music is one hobby that is very adaptable. Even if arthritis prevents an aging adult from playing an instrument the way they used to, there are other ways to enjoy music on their own, socially, and through other forms of music and interaction. Along with dancing and more low-impact activities, music can bring physical, mental, and emotional benefits. It can be an excellent activity for social occasions as people sing and participate in music therapy together. There are certain instruments, such as bells and chimes and other simple percussive movements, that older adults with arthritis may still be able to get involved with.
Sports and Games
For someone who used to be very involved in sports and athletics, it can be really difficult to come up against limitations as the body ages. But there are still ways to be involved in those interests—beyond just watching them on TV or talking about the old days. One option would be to get into an activity that is more accessible for limitations, such as pickleball, bocce ball, or swimming and other water activities. Another surprising opportunity comes with video games. The Nintendo Wii offers golf, tennis, baseball, balance games, and yoga, and it’s possible to play these games and feel engaged without overexerting yourself and risking injury. If competition is what an older adult is missing from these pastimes, activities like cards and board games offer a different way to stimulate that interest and in a social setting.
Finding the Hobbies That Really Work for an Older Adult with Arthritis
When you’re struggling with arthritis, some days are better than others. As caregivers, we can help aging adults to gain acceptance and compassion for their limitations. We can also encourage them to see an occupational therapist, who can help them to modify their daily routines and even discover the adaptations that can help them dive back into the fun. Don’t be afraid to help your aging loved one liven things up! This will help them to better align with their evolving identity and to embrace the many exciting opportunities still awaiting them.
Institute on Aging can help older adults and their caregivers to understand arthritis and to work with the challenges it presents. Our home care and support services consider the whole life situation, and we are dedicated to offering programs that enrich seniors’ lives and connecting them with resources for greater freedom and independence. Get in touch today to learn more.