AGING WITH CARE | Never too old to play

AGING WITH CARE | Never too old to play

AGING WITH CARE | Never too old to play

Toys for seniors?  I say, “Yes!”

We are never too old to delight in play, and research is telling us this: We benefit because play stretches our brain’s capacity to process information. Without activities that demand multi-tasking, imagination, visualization, spatial connections and sequencing of information, our brain functions slowly diminish as does our capacity for dealing with complex situations by responding with fast-actions.

Neuroscientists at University of California (UC) have been able to quantify improvements in multitasking by seniors. In a controlled setting, seniors were taught to play a challenging video game that simulates driving on a winding road while quickly responding to roadside signs. After 12 hours of learning and playing the game, seniors had become twice as efficient in their abilities to shift attention and multitask.

So instead of cookies, chocolates, socks or whatever, surprise your senior with a nontraditional present any time of the year. Give gifts that inspire fun and creativity, gifts that challenge the brain.


Traditional toys

Me? I’m not a “gamer.” It’s been a long time since I last played a video game. After reading about the results of this UC study, I am reconsidering and may try a video game or two.

When it comes to games and toys, I am more a traditionalist. I paid a visit to a Seattle toy guru, Allen Rickert, owner of Top Ten Toys in the Greenwood. Top Ten Toys is noted as a purveyor of classic toys (no electronic games or toys at this store). 

I asked him what toys and games he suggests for seniors. I was surprised with the diversity of options.

Multiplayer games are particularly well-suited for elders who live in senior living environments. For a rousing, multiplayer card game, Allen suggests Five Crowns; for a combo board/card game, try Sequence. A game that is good for laughs: Apples to Apples, a multiplayer game requiring thinking and creativity.

Rush Hour is a one-person game that requires sequential moves of little plastic cars and trucks to extract one from traffic gridlock.

And for the true-blue traditionalist, there’s always dominos.

Puzzles are great for keeping perceptions of spatial relationships fine-tuned. There are puzzle motifs and designs for every interest or pastime.

For reducing worry and anxiety, there’s “stress coloring.” It might seem kitschy for adults, but after taking a crack at coloring (hadn’t done it since I was a kid), I’m a believer. You can choose sophisticated coloring books ranging from decorative pieces, Native American art, Mexican art, geographical sites, to animals…the choices are almost limitless.


Crafty toys

Manual dexterity skills receive a boost by working on uncomplicated, pleasurable crafts. For a simple, fun project, there are kits for making potholders with a quick-knit loom; for fine painting, there are Russian dolls and tea sets.

For Grandpa’s inner child, there are building kits from Lego, Tinker Toys and even Lincoln Logs. With Magformers, Grandpa can magnetically connect parts and pieces to create either geometric shapes or contraptions like cars.

Shrinky Dinks are a crossover toy that appeals to the inner child in each of us. In every imaginable configuration — from jewelry to insects — pieces are first colored and then baked in the oven. This craft project may “require” that the elderly adult be “supervised” by a child — thus, a perfect holiday activity for a grandchild or great-grandchild to enjoy with their grandparent.

One additional gift idea: a ukulele. This small, easy-to-play musical instrument has made a resurgence in popularity. Learning to play will provide a rewarding challenge. If you choose to gift this item, be sure to include a songbook of old “standards” with chording diagrams.

Let’s bring back play for all ages. Remember: It’s good for us.

MARLA BECK is the founder and president of Andelcare Inc., which provides in-home eldercare. Submit questions by calling (206) 838-1844 or via e-mail to