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  • Writer's pictureChildcare Connections

Staying Sharp

Keep your mind active and engaged and you may be better equipped to handle the stress of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

This is true for people of all ages, but becomes increasingly important for older adults, says Jeongeun Lee, an Iowa State University assistant professor and Extension specialist in human development and family studies.

“Being intellectually engaged may benefit the brain. People who engage in mentally stimulating activities feel happier and healthier. Learning new skills may improve your thinking ability too,” said Lee.

For example, scholars from University of Texas at Dallas and Canisius College found that older adults who learned quilting or digital photography had more memory improvement than those who only socialized or did less cognitively demanding activities.

Cognitive challenging activities alone will not necessarily reduce risk for dementia. Lifestyle may play a part.

“That means a lot of simple and even mundane activities can keep your mind active,” said Lee. “For example, read books and magazines. Take or teach an online class. Learn a new skill or hobby. Work in the garden or take a walk with a pet. These types of simple activities can be fun and bring meaning to older adults.”

Sue Blanchet, executive assistant and marketing director at Friendship Haven, said they have been adding extra activities here and there to help keep their residents active. These sort of activities are appropriate for anyone to do — not just those in long term care facilities. Blanchet said she is utilizing space in Friendship Haven’s newsletter by adding puzzles, mind benders, trivia questions and more.

“Our newsletter is usually full of events, trips they can take — but, a lot of that came to a halt real quick,” she said. “Since we aren’t doing any of that we decided to include fun games in the newsletter to give them something else to think about rather than just updating them on what we are doing for COVID and help to stretch their mind a little bit.”

Friendship Haven’s closed circuit TV channel has also become a source for residents to tune in to, get their daily update and learn about other ways for them to use their time differently than they have in the past. One of the many activities Childcare Discovery Center does is bring bouncy houses in for their daycare children to enjoy.

“Julie (Thorson, Friendship Haven’s president and CEO) will challenge them to open up the Friendship Haven phone book and call other residents that you normally would see while you were eating lunch, or while you were at church service,” said Blanchet. “She recently challenged them to take out a pen and paper – do something different and write a letter to somebody, just again, challenging them to do something a little different they normally wouldn’t do.”

Friendship Haven has also been encouraging their residents to start a pen pal program. The closed circuit station has also been playing recorded exercising sessions done by one of their wellness staff.

“That has been really helpful too,” said Blanchet.

Friendship Haven resident, Sharon Hickey has been keeping herself active by trying to help others.

“I just try to be a good listener when people just want to chat,” she said. “I also keep my apartment door open and people know they can stop in and visit whenever.”

She has also been trying to spread some extra cheer and finding ways to make things less lonely for the people in her building.

Hickey said she has been finding inexpensive items and placing them on resident’s shelves outside of their apartments. Tootsie Roll suckers, were one of her most recent gifts.

“I thought it would take us back to the past when we were kids and having fun,” she said. “I think the more you give yourself to other people it comes back ten-fold. The more you reach out to other people, I think that makes a huge difference.”

She has been taking some of her extra time to focus on prayer, has been reading more and has been sending letters to family.

“I have been writing old-fashioned letters to my grandchildren and sending them little packages, so that even though I can’t see them, they know I am thinking about them,” she said.

Hickey said she is fortunate to have a balcony she can spend time on where she keeps plants and a hummingbird feeder. She also utilizes the garden plot at Friendship Haven where she is raising corn and tomatoes.

For the kids Courtney McNeil, director of Childcare Discovery Center in Fort Dodge, said they have also made some adjustments with the activities they do with their children – although much of it has actually stayed the same.

“We’re kind of just trying to keep them busy here and keep their life here as much as normal as it can be,” she said. “Safety-wise, obviously, we are doing lots of extra hand washing, disinfecting and things like that.”

Starting back when schools were first cancelled is when McNeil said they stepped up and began helping and providing their school-aged children with more learning opportunities and helping them connect with their teachers during Zoom classes.

Since many of the summer field trips for the school-agers, especially have been cancelled, McNeil said they have had to improvise in order to help keep them active.

“We are just sticking to going to parks this year,” she said.

Otherwise, McNeil said the children have been keeping busy with outdoor water activities, bouncy-house play, making Play Doh and slime.

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