How to Start an Activities Program for Older Adults

Guest Post Author: Danny W. Pettry, II, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, CTRS |

A Review of Sandra Parker, Carol Will, and Cherly Bruke’s (1989) Activities for the Elderly

Book Title: Activities for the Elderly, Volume 1: A Guide to Quality Programming

Authors: Sandra Parker, Carol Will, and Cheryl Burke

Released: 1989

Publisher:  Idyll Arbor

ISBN: 9781882883004

Starting a recreation program for the elderly can be a challenge for a person who is just starting out. Fortunately, there are many experienced professionals and resources available.  Dr. Sandra Parker’s (1989) book, Activities for the Elderly is one of those useful resources for beginners.

How I discovered the book:

Dr. Sandra Parker was my academic advisor for my undergraduate degree in Therapeutic Recreation at Marshall University (in Huntington, West Virginia).  Dr. Parker taught a course on Leisure and Aging. Her book, Activities for the Elderly, was one of the required readings for this course.

Dr. Parker provided students (who were mostly younger people right out of high school) with opportunities to interact with seniors.  She set up a series of guest-speakers of seniors, who were active in life, including musicians, artists, and authors. Students in her course took a tour of local nursing homes and senior housing.  The majority of this class was outside of the classroom.

Practicing is the key to success

Practice facilitating and leading activities are the best way to increase competency and confidence. Dr. Parker created a “lab,” through the University that allowed students to practice facilitating activities for the elderly. Seniors who lived in local high-rise apartments (senior housing) were invited to participate in the activities program, which was on site to allow for easy accessibility.  Students in our class took turns leading group activities for this program. Students observed and assisted other students when it was their week to facilitate an activity. Students often implement activities from Dr. Parker’s book or from other related books. There was a wrap-up discussion each week to discuss the group facilitator’s strengths in leading activities as well as to identify areas of needed improvement.

Some useful information from the book:

Dr. Parker’s Activities for the Elderly is like a “recipe cookbook” with 75 activities. Each activity includes a list of resources that are needed for each activity and instructions on how to implement the activity.  There is also a summary of potential benefits for each activity (for example increased concentration or physical endurance).

Training and motivating volunteers and activity assistants is covered in the front of the book. This is a very valuable skill to have. An individual who is hired to start an activities program may be required to teach and train direct care staff or activity assistance on leading activities as well. Practice and experience build abilities.

The rest of the chapters in the book are separated into various types of activities. These include:

  • Large muscle activities;
  • Mental/ memory activities;
  • Arts and crafts;
  • Music;
  • Dance and drama;
  • Outdoor/ nature activities; and
  • Religious activities

Who else would be interested in this book:

Recreation therapists, activity directors, and other programmers who work with the elderly may enjoy this book. It could serve as a useful reference tool. People who provide services for other age groups (children, teens, or adults) can be creative and adapt many of these activities for those age groups as well.

About the Author


Danny Pettry, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, CTRS  has worked as a practitioner at a Psychiatric Residential Treatment Program for children and adolescents with various mental and behavioral health needs since 2002. Pettry has provided continuing online education for recreation therapists since 2007. Follow Danny on  Facebook or on LinkedIn.

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