Having Fun in a Nursing Home

“I told my daughter not to be so gloomy-doomy all the time. I’ll be all right.” — A recently-placed 89-year old woman

I laugh with the residents all the time. We laugh at their jokes and we laugh at the crazy things that happen in life and in a nursing home. Once I was working with Mary, a genteel woman who’d had a series of roommates, each with their own peculiarities. Her first roommate was a 100-year old lady with the mouth of a truck driver, then the promised quiet new roommate had a husband in attendance almost 24/7 whether or not his wife was in the room, and finally she had a lady who couldn’t hear a thing. Over the months, her tales took on a Candide-like quality. When she told me she’d been roused from sleep when her latest roommate had rolled her wheelchair toward the bathroom close to the foot of Mary’s bed, put her hand to the new hearing aid in her ear, and said loudly, “Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3, 4,” I burst out laughing, and Mary did too. “This would be great material for a stand-up comic,” I told her, “only it would have to be a nursing home resident, preferably in a wheelchair, so it would be a sit-down comic.” I’m still waiting for a resident with enough chutzpah to make the rounds of the nursing home entertainment circuit.

There are lots of opportunities for fun in a nursing home, from the formal activities scheduled by the recreation department, to sharing a laugh with some friends on the floor, to going out on a day pass with family.

Once one of my coworkers was a therapeutic recreation director who was in a wheelchair himself. He took the residents watertubing. Yes, watertubing. The adventurers transferred from their wheelchairs to a seat on top of a large rubber tube. One end of a rope was attached to the tube, and the other end was attached to a boat, which took off with the floating resident flying along behind it. I have never seen a more revved up group of residents returning from a trip.

Not too long ago, I learned of a company, Draisin, that makes tandem bicycles for people in wheelchairs. I showed the photo of one of the bikes to some residents, and almost half of my small sample (N=11) said they’d be willing to go for a ride if they had the opportunity. Not quite watertubing, but still a lot of fun.

WalkerWonder is a company that makes decorative walker bags and accessories for people to enliven their medical walkers. [Update: WalkerWonder appears to have closed, but check out HDSMedallion‘s beautiful carry-all bags for mobility devices.]

A man in the building where I live exchanged his dull wheelchair wheels for ones that flash colorful lights as they spin. I think it will take only one person in each nursing home for that to catch on.

I’ll end this post with a true nursing home joke: One day after a psychotherapy session, I was trying to wheel one of my patients to her table in the dining room, but another resident, a gentleman in his 90s, was in the way.
“Excuse me,” I said to him, but realizing he couldn’t hear me, I leaned forward and asked in a very loud voice, “Which Ear Is Your Good Ear, Mr. Schwartz?”
He looked at me and said enthusiastically, “Any year I’m alive!”

6 thoughts on “Having Fun in a Nursing Home”

  1. I love your posts. You’ve flipped the perceived image of a nursing home on its head!
    The idea of comedy in a nursing home environment is long overdue 🙂

  2. Yes, Dale, I can’t wait to see the residents watch a comedy routine created especially for them, by another resident who knows what it’s like. There’s got to be a performer in a nursing home somewhere who’s willing to come out of retirement for this gig.

  3. I used to hire a puppeteer, who was just amazing. He, himself was young but his puppets were elderly, I don’t recall his previous experience, or the source for his material, but in 25 years in nursing homes, I have never heard anyone funnier on the nursing home circuit. Last I heard, he went onto television.

  4. Sue, a puppeteer with elderly puppets is a great idea! I wish I’d had the chance to see him. For now, I’m hoping for a former Borsht Belt comedian, but can you imagine the residents lucky enough to be in a nursing home with Robin Williams? Or Chris Rock, way down the line?


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