Hobbies and interests keep people happy. But as you age, the mental and emotional stimulation that comes along with completing activities is critical, especially activities that interest you. According to the National Institute on Aging, research shows seniors who engage with their hobbies and interests are less likely to develop memory conditions, and they have a longer life span.
According to Kimberly Skerl, director of life enrichment at Menorah Park in Beachwood; Dimitra Thompson, lifestyle director at Maplewood at Chardon in Chardon; and Jason Welther, community development director at Windsor Heights in Beachwood, senior communities should make accommodations and encourage residents to select hobbies.
At Maplewood, Thompson said caring about the community’s interests falls under its “personalized approach to caring.”
“It’s one of our core values,” she said. “This is so important to ensure that our residents continue to thrive as individuals. Our residents come from different backgrounds so there are many hobbies to keep in mind.”
For Menorah Park staff, Skerl said one of their main goals on the campus is the life enrichment of its clients.
“The whole at Menorah Park is to make sure the residents are still able to do the things that they are passionate about and live empowered while they are here,” she noted. “We don’t want them to come here and lose something. There shouldn’t be an obstacle for them to maintain their life and things they enjoy when they come here. Our first thing to do with residents when they come here is to talk to them and learn about the things they enjoy. We’re person-centered and want to give them every opportunity to live empowered lives.”
With Windsor Heights being a memory care facility that deals with clients who have memory conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, Welther said supporting hobbies is a big part of the programming.
“With memory care, you have to remember that certain things go away and certain things stay,” he explained. “A lot of times, long-term memory is somewhat still intact. If they have a hobby or interest, that tends to remain. It’s important to keep doing it because they’re still able to enjoy that in some form or another.”
Calling back to the saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it,” Welther said it can apply directly to brain health. By supporting hobbies, senior facilities can have more cognitively present residents.
“Even if as you start to get older and you still start to lose it, you want to maintain it,” he noted. “It can strengthen the brain. If you don’t do this, seniors can start to withdraw. If they can still enjoy their hobbies, it stimulates them and allows them to be part of a community, no matter where they are.”
Creating a community around hobbies is an important part of senior living, Thompson said.
“When seniors share their hobbies, they often learn from each other and form new bonds and friendships,” she stated. “From these experiences of residents and staff sharing hobbies and talents, we learn so much about each other and that leads to a spirit of harmony and friendship. New friendships are born from this and a spirit of recruitment in starting new projects.”
For example, Maplewood has a tradition to hold its “Maplewood’s Got Talent” show, where residents and staff alike participate in showing off their skills. From piano to drum makers to dart throwing and corn hole tournaments, it allows residents to participate in the things they love and interact with others all at once.
No matter how a senior community works these activities into the fabric of its culture, it’s an important part of the overall health of an aging adult.
“It’s important to keep (seniors) socializing, creating those bonds and building those friendships together,” Skerl noted. “(Hobbies) have a direct impact on the mental, physical and emotional health of residents. We want to keep them active in their minds and body, and this is one way to do that. As we grow older, there is no change in the essence of who we are and our desires as human beings. What makes us fulfilled and important at the end of the day, that doesn’t change.”