The Psychological Importance of Nursing Home Activities

I refer my residents to therapeutic activities every day. I consider them a vital adjunct to my work as a psychologist. Here’s why:

  • Therapeutic recreation reverses the downward spiral of depression. There’s a theory that when we’re depressed, we stop doing the things we enjoy, thus leading to more depression. In order to become less depressed, we need to engage in activities we used to find pleasurable, even if we don’t feel like it. Once we do something fun, it energizes us enough to take the next pleasant action, thus leading to an upward spiral out of depression.
  • Structured days are happier days. I suppose there are people who flourish with nothing much to do, but in my experience, most people feel better when they have plans. Residents who sit in their rooms all day tend to ruminate on the negative. As the saying goes, “When I’m in my head, I’m in a bad neighborhood.” I encourage residents to find at least two activities each week to attend on a regular basis.
  • Activities are more vital when all time is leisure time. Nursing home residents don’t have to go to work. They don’t have to cook, clean, pay bills, or take care of other chores. When life tasks no longer take up the bulk of the day, it’s essential to fill the time with something else constructive.
  • Therapeutic recreation allows residents to continue or create new identities. Our identities as individuals tend to be based on the things we do or have accomplished. Who are we when we are no longer able to accomplish what we used to? Therapeutic recreation provides the opportunity for new experiences and helps residents find creative ways to continue old interests that might be challenging due to disabilities.
  • Activities foster socialization with peers. Residents often believe there’s no one in the nursing home they can talk to. This myth is dispelled through recreational activities, especially those that encourage the residents to speak up, such as trivia or group reminiscence.
  • Life needs purpose. Activities that allow residents the opportunity to contribute to society give purpose to life. Residents can raise money for a world-wide cause, join the resident council to improve their nursing home, or create a gift for a family member in their art class. Purpose can also be found in personal satisfaction such as besting a Wii bowling record or appreciating a musical performance.
  • Apart from medical care, therapeutic recreation is the best reason to be in a nursing home. Residents receive essential healthcare in nursing homes, but it’s the recreation department that gives them the opportunity to create a new life.

8 thoughts on “The Psychological Importance of Nursing Home Activities”

  1. Dr. El,

    First, I would like to say that I will be using this blog for my next inservice with my recreation staff and will also be sharing it with our facility's inservice coordinator, I could never have said it as well as you.

    Second, I encourage residents to attend at least one recreation program each day. While we do provide a variety of recreation programs each week, there may be only a couple that are of particular interest to a resident, however, I suggest they attend even those that may not necessarily be a favorite for many of the reasons you have given.

    Lastly, I would like to add that, among other things, a good recreation program provides a variety of choices for residents, in groups and independently, on a daily basis and affords them the opportunity to have say in what activities the facility provides.

  2. Sue, thanks for sharing the blog post with your staff. Happy Therapeutic Recreation Week 2010!

    I agree that a good recreation program allows for a variety of group and individual activities. I also like to see residents engage in informal groups, such as chatting together or playing cards. Regular off-campus activities provide connectedness with the community and create an increased sense of freedom and possibility.

  3. Dr. El,
    What are your recommendations on how a long term care provider can encourage participation in activities? Do you recommend the family take an active role in encouraging or understanding the activities for the resident.

  4. Anonymous, thanks for your comment, and your work with the residents.

    Glenn, interesting activities, enthusiastic and encouraging recreation workers, and supportive nursing staff usually result in high attendance at activities. Family members can support this by attending activities with their loved ones and helping to facilitate connections with other residents so there's more comfort in attending with new friends when the family members aren't available.

  5. I completely agree with all of your thoughts on this. However, the language we use in this area has been a hot topic for me lately.

    My feeling is that one of the problems is that I have never said to my wife and kids – "family lets engage in some therapeutic activities, recreation, life enrichment, etc."

    When we make a move to elder care settings this language is all around us and it changes "hanging out" or "doing stuff" into tasks that sound very prescriptive and health care related.

    I figure if anyone can help with this element its you! Keep up the good work!

  6. Thanks, Steve, for your comment and your vote of confidence. I agree, the language we use to discuss this is definitely clinical and doesn't sound like much fun. I must confess that I've never suggested directly to a resident that they "attend therapeutic recreation." I tell them we've got lots of fun activities here and that, while not everything is going to be their cup of tea, they might try X. I tailor my suggestions to their particular interests and then ask the recreation therapist to bring them to the activity if they're willing to go. But when I write my notes, this gets translated into "socialization was encouraged. Resident discussed with RT."


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