In Japanese culture there exists the idea of ikigai, which emphasizes the importance of having a sense of purpose every day. This helps instill drive and gives people a greater appreciation for living in the moment. When older adults continue doing something they love—whether a job or hobby—as they age, that activity becomes a gift: it enhances meaning in one’s life by providing a daily purpose.
As your own aging loved ones grow older, it becomes more and more critical to keep them engaged in life; to make sure they feel they have a reason to get up in the morning. But if they’re no longer able to participate in activities they once loved, it’s time to seek out new opportunities to provide inspiration and enjoyment.
Helping Your Loved One Rediscover Joy Through Hobbies
The aging process is a time of transformation, when older adults frequently experience changes in their physical abilities, mobility, and health. It’s common for seniors to find themselves no longer able to enjoy their old hobbies due to these shifts. Another factor that can come into play is finances: sometimes older adults find themselves working within a smaller budget than before, and aren’t able to afford the same hobbies they once pursued.
Missing out on activities can have negative effects on your loved one, such as depression stemming from lack of purpose. Author Victor Frankl talks about the need to engage in activities that serve a purpose beyond one’s own immediate needs. Frankl argues that to feel wholly fulfilled as a human being, we need to engage in activities that have purpose beyond our own individual lives—activities that are connected to life on a larger scale. Meaningful activities could involve volunteer work, pursuing creative endeavors like writing or painting, or teaching others. It could also involve learning a new skill, joining a team sport, or participating in goal-oriented solo activities. The end game is to find an activity that helps your loved one engage in something that’s ultimately bigger than them.
Finding New Hobbies for Your Loved One
If you noticed your loved one is having trouble participating in or enjoying their usual hobbies, you can support their happiness by helping them find new activities better suited to their current abilities. When searching for new hobbies, keep in mind your loved one’s personality type, energy levels, and any mobility issues they might be experiencing.
Swimming is one of the best physical activities for older adults: gentle on the joints, this low-impact sport can be done both outdoors and indoors, depending on where you live. Being in the water has numerous therapeutic benefits, like relaxation and improved circulation. If your loved one previously enjoyed high impact sports like running, heavy weight lifting, or step aerobics, swimming might be the perfect alternative. For older adults with bad knees and hips, doing water aerobics, swimming lengths, or simply playing in the water offers a fun experience that keeps them fit.
You don’t have to travel across the world to reap the benefits of travel. If your loved one used to enjoy going on wild adventures or epic road trips, they can still soak up the fun of adventure by doing it on a smaller scale. They could take a day trip to a nearby park, explore a new neighborhood, or head to a nearby beach for an afternoon. Short trips are a great way to spend time with your loved one, since you can see new places and meet new people together.
Constructing and building things
Working with our hands is good for the soul: it keeps our brain fit, improves fine motor skills, and gives us the satisfaction of making something. Beyond building your own creations, some older adults also love to delve into the repair aspect of construction. Whether your loved one is keen on woodworking, assembling models, or fixing furniture, having this type of hobby can be really fulfilling. It also gives them a chance to hone their techniques and pass down skills to younger family members, which can turn into a bonding experience. Hobbies like these are great for older adults who prefer spending time at home, working in a studio, and enjoy aesthetics like detail and design.
Hobbies that involve moving one’s body are very beneficial for older adults to engage in. If your loved one is seeking physical activities other than swimming that are lower-impact, they can try gentle yoga, movement therapy, or dance classes. Check to see if your local community center offers these types of activities specifically for seniors, so you can be sure that the teacher will gear the class to your loved one’s abilities. Hobbies like yoga also cultivate mindfulness and body awareness, two things that most older adults really benefit from.
Spending time outdoors
Activities like walking outside, hiking in forests, or simply sitting on a park bench in the sunshine can help renew your loved one’s sense of joy. Spending time in nature is known to improve depression, while hobbies like gardening give an instant serotonin boost. Enjoying nature can come in all forms; no matter your loved one’s mobility levels, physical fitness, or mental abilities, there’s a way for them to experience nature’s benefits.
Art-making is another hobby that can be easily adjusted to suit your loved one’s current abilities. If they used to be into drawing or painting but now find their hands too unsteady, this can be a great opportunity to switch styles. You could encourage them to try abstract painting, finger-painting, or color-field work—any type of art that is more focused on process than product. Regardless of skill or mastery, both drawing and painting have plenty of happy effects, including better memory, communication skills, and relaxation.
With so many different types of hobbies that your loved one can enjoy at any age, there’s no reason for them to suffer from disengagement. As a caregiver, you can help your loved one by guiding them toward activities that suit their interests as much as their mobility level and health. Having an activity that they can look forward to doing on a regular basis can make a huge difference in their quality of life by helping prevent depression, and offering your loved one a sense of purpose through their aging years.
If you and your family are looking for more ideas to help your loved one engage with life more fully, explore Institute on Aging’s range of compassionate resources and programs. Connect with us today for more information.