We’ve all heard the advice that seniors should try to keep their minds as active as possible, even if their physical health is limiting some of their mobility. We’ve heard about all the ways to fight cognitive decline: reading newspapers, playing card games, completing sudoku puzzles, even playing musical instruments. But in our technological age, there are even more activities available to keep seniors mentally active - and they’re available at the click of a button.
This post outlines five different online activities for seniors that provide mental stimulation, promote engagement, and supply entertainment.
Before discussing the online activities available for seniors, it’s important to take a moment to talk about safety. Because seniors did not grow up with internet access, they cannot always intuitively tell the difference between secure and unsecure webpages. For this reason, seniors are often the target of internet scammers. If you’re thinking of recommending online activities to your senior loved one, make sure that you also have a conversation about internet safety.
It may be a good idea to remind your senior loved one:
- Not to give out any personal or sensitive information online.
- To always select a non-identifiable username.
- How to recognize the ‘secure’ symbol in the address bar.
- Not to click on pop-up advertisements.
If you believe your loved one will struggle to remember these things, you may want to bookmark safe pages for them, so they won’t run the risk of encountering scams as they navigate the web on their own.
Software for Seniors
Developing technological know-how can be more challenging for some seniors than for others. If your loved one is overwhelmed by the number of programs and websites available, or if they cannot easily remember online safety practices, you might want to look into software like Oscar Senior. This tablet app offers a simplified interface, eliminating all the ‘extras’ on a device that can cause confusion. All text in the app is large and easy to read, and it prevents pop-up advertisements. It also has a neat connectivity feature that allows you to access the application via your own mobile device. If your loved one is struggling with a feature, you can access their app remotely in order to sort things out for them.
For seniors who enjoy the sudoku and crossword puzzles in the newspaper, there are many games available online for free. Games provide intellectual stimulation, help prevent cognitive decline, improve memory - and, of course, they’re fun!
Seniors might enjoy word searches, crossword puzzles, mahjongg, solitaire, chess, or checkers. There are also online games that simulate physical activities like golf or baseball. You can even complete digital jigsaw puzzles online, which eliminates the task of purchasing puzzles and the need to clean up pieces once a puzzle is complete.
AARP has a wide variety of games geared toward the interests of seniors; you can find them here. Memozor has puzzles meant to improve and sustain recall. Lumosity provides "brain training" intended to target an array of cognitive skills.
For seniors with smartphones or tablets, all of these games are available as apps for Apple or Android devices. Some will cost a small amount, particularly if you want to expand the number of puzzles or games you'll be able to play, but almost all apps are available cost-free with all their basic components. Performing a keyword search for the name of the game of your choice, wherever you purchase your apps, should yield many results.
2. Social Networks & Senior-Specific Websites
A StatsCan study on senior internet usage cites a book called Successful Aging by R. Kahn and J. Rowe, and notes that successful aging, according to the authors, involves “community engagement.” For seniors with mobility difficulties, it may not be possible to spend time outside of the home on a daily basis, but social engagement is always available online.
Many seniors want to age in place and to maintain their independence and their personal space in their own homes, but this can be an isolating experience if physical ailments place limits on mobility. Companionship from family members, friends, and caregivers can drastically reduce feelings of loneliness, but when seniors are alone, or when they are craving connection with the outside world, the internet can be a great resource.
As long as your senior loved one is comfortable with the learning curve a new website might present, signing up for a Facebook account will give them a platform to engage with others. On Facebook, seniors can connect with their family members, whether it's by sending messages, or simply by seeing recent pictures of their grandchildren.
Facebook also contains countless communities, or groups, some of which are undoubtedly geared toward your loved one’s geographic location or interests. They may find a group that posts updates about events in their neighbourhood, one that fosters connection and conversation among seniors, or one for people who enjoy knitting, lawn bowling, or reading novels by a certain author - the possibilities are endless. Seniors can simply peruse these posts, or they can engage with other users and make posts of their own.
You can help your loved one set their privacy settings on Facebook to keep their account secure. It’s also a good idea to remind them of all the proper precautions to take when interacting with online acquaintances.
There are also websites for seniors that cover a wide range of topics, including the best vacation spots for retirees, the best practices for staying in good health, finances, personal interest stories, and even dating advice. These websites often have fairly active comment sections, and allow seniors to engage in discussions about articles that are geared specifically toward their demographic. Two such websites are the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and Senior Planet.
Blogging might be perceived as an activity typical of younger generations, but there’s no reason seniors with a little bit of tech-savvy can’t be bloggers as well. In fact, seniors are already blogging, writing about everything from their tomato gardens to current political events to significant moments in history.
Blogs, like websites for seniors and social networks like Facebook, are spaces that foster communities. For seniors who write their own blogs, these are communities of their own making, where they can begin conversations with people from around the world - some of whom are seniors, and some of whom are simply interested in the same topics.
Seniors looking for blogging inspiration may want to check out ElderChicks, a blog that features musings from its founders, blog posts from “Elder Experts,” and even a forum.
4. Online courses
For seniors who sometimes find the leisure of retirement a bit too leisurely, online courses may be the perfect answer. Our mental and physical health are not always on the same footing, and it can be difficult to have an active, agile mind and a body that cannot move like it used to. For seniors whose cognitive abilities are still sharp, online courses can be a great way to experience intellectual stimulation and to engage with the world, even if there are some limitations on their physical mobility.
On websites like Coursera, college-level courses on subjects like psychology, animal behaviour, Spanish, and many, many more are available for free. The website’s partners include Stanford and Yale. Retirement years can be a great time for keen seniors to learn about the subjects they were previously unable to focus on as they pursued their career goals.
If you have time, you can take the same course as your senior loved one and engage in discussion about all you learn. It may also be enjoyable for seniors to take courses in groups, with a friend or two, so that they can all study the material together.
In our digital age, there is a YouTube tutorial for everything. Seniors who enjoy knitting can learn new stitches and patterns from videos. Seniors who enjoy reading can watch book reviews. Those who enjoy a certain sport can watch recaps and analyses of individual games. There are knitting groups, and book clubs, and groups of friends who meet to discuss sports, and seniors should take every opportunity to engage with these communities in person, but for the times when they can’t, YouTube can fill in some of the gaps. You may want to find a few channels that cater to your loved one’s interests and create subscriptions, so that the content they enjoy will always be readily available.
YouTube also offers a wealth of comedy content. Laughter is a source of stress relief, a mood booster, and, as the old adage says, “the best medicine.” There are comedic videos specifically for aging audiences, like this somewhat risqué comedy set by Chuck Esterly, but there are also sets from famous stand-up comedians, cute videos of cats and dogs, compilations of sweet and funny baby behaviours, and heartwarming videos that document proposals and homecomings. It’s not beneficial for anyone, seniors included, to spend all day watching videos online, but funny videos can provide lighthearted moments in the middle of difficult days.
There are ways for almost every senior to benefit from online activities, whether they play games, learn new things in courses or via YouTube tutorials, stay connected with family members, or engage with their communities. All of these activities keep senior minds active, promote engagement and inclusion, and can provide enjoyable amusement.
Introduce your senior loved one to websites you think they might enjoy, remind them of the guidelines for staying safe online, and let their creativity and community involvement flourish!