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.

This is NOT an Anti-Aging Book: A Closer Look at Cameron Diaz’s The Longevity Book


Image Source: Our Body Book

The other day my husband and I were in the car on our way to dinner when an expose of Cameron Diaz’s book The Longevity Book came onto the radio.  We hit the interview about mid-way through so I missed the author’s name, but as I sat there listening to this woman so confidently and eloquently call out our society on its anti-aging culture I audibly questioned who she could be? A new voice from AARP? Or maybe, an expert representative from the National Institute of Health?

After ten years in the field, I’ve become so accustomed to the leading experts address the topic of aging that the very thought a Hollywood Actress would so boldly discuss the positive of aging was probably my last guest. Which undoubtedly calls into question my social relationship with Hollywood and the parallels to youth that we so desperately hold.

An open and honest depiction of the real beauty and privilege it is to experience the aging process.

It was refreshing to hear that a woman who for so long has been a symbol of youth and beauty describe her fear of turning forty. In her book, she describes experiencing this time publicly.  In interviews, questions became more frequently around her age rather than her craft.  And she realized that no one cared about the biological effects that she was physically experiencing, but merely what would happen to her career now that she no longer looked twenty-five.

Although these questions are a bit shallow, arguably they stem from our collective fear of aging.  And without practice in real aging dialog, our society’s questioning of the maturing process to someone who is experiencing it (at least in the way our youth drove society understands aging) the questions may seem a bit crass and inappropriate.

But rather than hiding behind a perfectly manicured face or becoming a spokeswoman for the latest anti-aging product Cameron Diaz wrote a book.  A book to guide women to a better understanding of the next phase in their life. An open and honest depiction of the real beauty and privilege it is to experience the aging process. And to combat the somewhat silly notion that the awkward and uncomfortable state of our youth should somehow remain our ever present.

The book goes on to explain both the biological and social effects of aging has on women and offers a new and refreshing dialog on aging within popular culture. Stated in Chapter One, the book’s mission is to be used as a tool to reshape an already well-established dialog on what it means to grow older. A guidebook to what is to be expected during the natural progression of life and to offer a scientific understanding to a woman’s cellular body.


Image Source: Our Body Book


It was Cameron Diaz’s journey that compelled her to write The Longevity Book, and she is just one of the many influencers speaking out against stereotypes on aging, but one of the few outside of the world of the aging services.

Changing the Way, we Discuss Anything Aging

Although every woman’s experience to aging is unique, we all have a shared involvement in the process. Unlike ever before, both men and women can live a healthy and active life well into their nineties even our centurions have expressed happy later years.

As I mentioned in my last post, Meg LaPorte the Founder of Age in America, a Collection of Stories Designed to Challenge Aging Stereotypes, when asked about their age and life more than likely older adults share the happy life they have led. They express thankfulness for the path they have taken to get to where they are today.

The Longevity Book is a surprisingly pleasant and easy read that is perfect to add to your summer reading list. It offers great tips on how to openly discuss our unique experience, which is so critical to our own perceptions of self-worth. And teaches us that when we change the way we talk about the aging experience, we begin to help others find the beauty in theirs.