Never Too Old to Play: Celebrating Older Americans Month With OT
By Stephanie Yamkovenko
May is Older Americans Month, and this year’s theme is “Never too old to play.” Playing encompasses much more than a swing set—the theme is designed to highlight the wisdom, experience, and understanding that older adults can share with other generations through social and civic activities.
In addition to the societal benefits that engaged older adults can bring to their communities and their families, a recent study found that older adults who spent time doing physical activity reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.1 The good news is that the activity was not just exercise—it also included activities of daily living such as cooking, cleaning, and washing dishes. Another study recently found that people who remain physically, socially, and mentally engaged as they age help stave off memory decline.2
Occupational therapy practitioners understand the importance of older adults staying engaged in their communities and participating in their valued daily activities or occupations. As people age, it may become more difficult for them to participate in activities because of the normal aging process or a new condition or disease. Occupational therapy practitioners understand the complex interaction among the person, environment, and activities they need to accomplish. An occupational therapy practitioner can help older adults be successful in completing activities by matching their skills to the demands of the activity, minimizing environmental barriers, adapting the activity or providing adaptive equipment, and finding other solutions to the challenges.
“Fortunately, research on preventive occupational therapy has shown that our interventions can cost-effectively slow down the declines associated with aging and improve the health of older people,” says AOTA President Florence Clark, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA. “What is special about our interventions is that by keeping people engaged in social, physical, and productive activity and, when needed, modifying their environments, we enable them to offset chronic disease and disability, age in place, and by using their capacities, avoid losing them.”
Clark recently shared five tips backed by her research with The Atlantic for older adults to stay active physically, socially, and spiritually. Read them here.
The Administration on Aging developed a toolkit to help health care professionals, community members, and older adults develop a “Day of Play” programming for Older Americans Month. The toolkit includes ideas for physical, cognitive, social, and creativity activities. The day of play can be as simple as flying a kite, or as involved as creating a community cookbook and potluck meal or organizing a Wii bowling tournament. Download it here.
Stephanie Yamkovenko is AOTA’s staff writer.
1. Kaplan, K. (2012, April 18). You’re never too old to reduce Alzheimer’s risk with exercise. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/18/news/la-heb-alzheimers-physical-activity-elderly-20120418
2. Boyles, S. (2012, April 27). Social, mental, and physical engagements help maintain memory. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20120427/use-it-or-lose-it-key-to-keep-aging-brain-young