Activities for People Living with Impairments
This article is aimed at giving you activity ideas if you are working with people with impairments of various kinds. We hope you find it useful, and if you have any questions please feel free to get in touch.
Many older people find their eyesight is affected, they may have little or no sight due to diseases like Glaucoma. Low lighting can be a problem, so ensure light levels are bright and that print is larger than average – nothing less than 14 point and emboldened where possible. Try and use activities that have good bright colours that can contrast well against a table or background.
Before starting any activity session, make sure the person is aware of who is there and what is expected to happen. Let them know where the coordinator is seated/standing and maybe wear a jingly bracelet or talk constantly, so they know when you are coming near.
Sensory games can be fun to play, why not try a scented game like Follow Your Nose, or you could make your own with strong scents such as lemon, mint, coffee etc for players to identify. These games often lead to reminiscence discussions about what the smell reminds people of.
Many tactile games have been adapted from classic games such as dominoes and bingo that can be enjoyed by all abilities together. Spoken word games such as Match the Song Title are great, as are quizzes.
For fitness sessions, loud music can make it difficult to hear instructions, so keep the volume low and allow a few seconds for the instruction to register with someone before doing. Ball games can be played by using a ball with a rattle to locate its position, a game of walking football can be enjoyed, especially if there are some bright lights to highlight it.
Audiobooks can be a nice way to relax and there are many available online to download onto your device, or you can get them sent via a CD or USB stick.
Over 40% of people over 50 suffer from some kind of hearing loss. This can be due to several reasons but include wear and tear to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear as we get older. It could also be due to regular exposure to loud noises through work (this may present itself as Tinnitus) or maybe due to a family history of hearing loss. Hearing aids can help restore some hearing loss.
Communication can become difficult, but aid like our Communication Board are available with simple images and commands that the person can point to and enable their needs can be met. A Menu Board is also helpful for staff where photographs of each day’s meal selection can be displayed for people to choose for themselves.
What to bare in mind when planning activities
When organising activity sessions, the following tips can help:
- Get people’s attention by using visual clues, like raising your arm.
- Stay in one place, and keep eye contact when talking.
- Use demonstrations to increase understanding and don’t talk at the same time.
- Use pre-agreed visual signals for different actions (for example, ‘stop!’)
- Visual timetables help the group know what is going to happen and helps with context.
Most crafts can be enjoyed and any instructions or special information could be typed on a sheet and given to the participant to read beforehand, saving mishaps or health and safety issues. Group discussion can be frustrating for anyone with limited hearing, so why not ask someone with quick typing skills to sit next to the person and type up briefly what each person is saying. Ask each person to speak a little slower and pause between speakers to get the information down. Ensure the person with the hearing loss has a chance to comment too. If there is access to a large overhead screen, the better as it will benefit everyone to have a reminder of what is being said. This is a great tool for activity coordinators to reflect on conversations and who said what.
Even if hearing music is an issue, people can still ‘feel’ the beat if someone taps a foot or claps their hands to the beat. A drum or tambourine can be given to bang or shake in time too. Some people with hearing loss can still hear high or low-frequency sounds, so check with them to see which instrument suits them best – a xylophone is a good way to try scales. They may be able to hear a Bongo drum but not a triangle or bell, for instance. Sit everyone in a semi-circle for everyone to see the coordinator’s face and commands.
This can cover a wide range of situations, from limited mobility to weak hands or fingers, but most activities can be adapted to include the less able-bodied. People with Parkinson’s disease often have shaky hands and find it difficult to grip or manipulate items. A table with adjustable height is great to help anyone in a wheelchair access a craft activity or game, or an adjustable overbed table could be lowered to a suitable height. Make sure everything needed is within easy reach too.
Everyone enjoys being creative but some older people can suffer from a weak grip. Special Easi-grip Self-opening scissors are available that only require a gentle push to cut paper. Alternatively, there are also Easi-grip Push-down Table Top scissors that can be operated by the palm if fingers are difficult to manipulate. Thin paint brushes can also be a problem to grip so why not include brushes with a thicker, chunky handle or even an easy-grip brush that fits into the palm.
Fitness is still vitally important and even if the lower body doesn’t move so easily, there are some great ideas for fun gentle exercise sessions that can be done seated or standing. Check out the Sit to Get Fit range of DVDs, starting at beginner level and progressing to those who are more able. Upper bodies can be toned by playing games like Balloon Swatters or Punch Ball Balloons. Tactile bean bags can be thrown to each other and are easier to catch than a ball – for a slower action, why not try Bean Bag Scarves – palm-sized bean bags with chiffon scarves attached to slow them down through the air and allow them to be seen easily.
Getting outside can be great for older people and many still enjoy gardening. This can be easily adapted for anyone who finds it difficult to bend by adding some raised borders or even some large planters that come up to the right height to avoid bending too far. There are Easi-grip gardening tools that have ergonomically angled handles to help weak hands – there is also a cuff-support that can help give extra stability.
There are an increasing amount of people living with dementia, Parkinson’s disease and other mental impairments in care homes and all can take part in a variety of activity sessions with some care and attention given to their individual needs.
Firstly, identify any special considerations to be taken into accounts such as short attention span, low tolerance levels or behavioural issues – you may need some extra staffing to assist. Try to stick to familiar settings and keep groups small and preferably with participants and staff who are known to each other.
Those who are living with dementia can often enjoy activities that draw upon the past such as singing nostalgic songs, but they will often lose interest in a song if played the whole way through, so a singalong CD with medleys can be the way forward. These often just have one verse and a chorus of each song before moving onto the next to keep attention levels high. Adding some instruments to play can also bring added fun – waving coloured scarves or shaking maracas can be also good for others who may not know the words.
Parachutes are a simple way to exercise but loved by all. Octabands are another easy way for groups of all abilities to tone up together in a fun way by stretching and pulling the elasticised strips. Art and craft can be accessed by most abilities. Ready to go kits can be obtained where everything is cut to size and easily assembled without glue, which allows for the minimum of preparation. Velvet Art Picture kits are ideal as the velvety, tactile designs soak up smudges and give lovely results even if people have limited ability. Weaving can be fun and the repetitive action can be calming and easy to achieve. The Round Weaving Loom is perfect for this and has no edges to worry about and includes a selection of textured yarn that can be added to for each person to choose their desired design.
People with late-stage dementia or severe mental health issues may find it difficult to engage in group activity sessions but may still get enjoyment from an individual activity tailored to their needs. Our Fun Sensory Kit has an assortment of tactile items to squeeze, pull and fiddle with or a calming Precious Petzzz companion to sit on a lap and stroke gently. They may also enjoy playing simple games on a tablet such as colouring, drawing and jigsaw puzzles. The latter can often be downloaded for free and gives a choice of just a few large pieces to something more challenging.
As the above mentions, some people find it difficult to be in a group setting but may be able to enjoy an activity with a trusted family member or carer. Again, the internet can be a great way to ‘socialise’ without being in the same room. There are online chess, scrabble and similar sites that someone can play against others to improve skill levels.
One way to encourage someone to socialise is to identify a hobby or interest they like and pair them with someone else with the same interest for short periods – they could even write notes to each other, to begin with, to establish a friendship. Then find an activity that incorporates this hobby e.g.: birdwatching – match the bird with its title/ name as many birds with the letter a, then b etc. Only add to the numbers is everyone is happy to do so.
For some people the “social impairment” might come from years of relative isolation, so all they might need are some tools to help them interact with others. There’s a wide range of conversation aids that can be used in the care home. For example: Toss and Talk balls are a fun way to kick off conversations, or there are prompt card sets such as The Art of Conversation cards.