How I Motivate Seniors to Move, Laugh and Smile

by Guest Writer & Author  Renee Gibbons

I walk into the Senior Assisted Living Facility every Saturday morning with a rolling suitcase filled with my motivational movement bag of tricks. At least 10 seniors, some in wheelchairs, are already waiting for me. Others are hurrying in (okay maybe not hurrying in) to take their seats.  They already know we’re going to have a good time because the fun factor during our time together every Saturday has already been proven over and over again.  Now, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to make the physical movement session even better than last session.

After a heart-felt and wake-up everybody greeting to all my seniors, I open the suitcase and begin taking out all of the motivational movement bag of tricks needed for today’s session. I’d like to share with you what I do to motivate seniors to move, laugh and smile.

Music

The first to come out of my suitcase is Music!!  Music is key to elevating energy and creating a dance hall experience.   I use a music docking station and IPOD with a customized playlist of songs from the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s era since seniors may range in age from 60 to 100. From time to time, I throw in more contemporary music as well.  The playlist of songs starts with Warm-Up Movement songs such as My Eyes Adored You by Frankie Valli with a slower tempo and then gradually increases to Ready to Go Physical Movement songs with a faster tempo such as Smooth Criminal by Michael Jackson or Da Butt by E-U for higher intensity movements such as Walk It Out, Chair Dance or Around the Room Cardio.  101 Physical and Brain Fitness Activities for Seniors provides sample songs for each activity requiring music.

Physical Movement Lesson Plan

As they say “Variety is the Spice of Life.”  Out of my suitcase comes a lesson plan identifying the physical movement activities, detailed activity descriptions, and delivery instructions for every activity that will be performed during the session.  In a 90-minute session, my seniors are Warming Up, then Walking It Out while seated in their chairs, then Chair Dancing, and then Dancing Around the Room for those who can physically move around.  I then add a Line Dance or two to songs like YMCA by the Village People or The Twist by Chubby Checker.  Sessions may include Tone-Up with 1 lb. weights or bean bags, Stretching and Flexibility, or Chair Balance. Then we close with a Cool Down Activity.  There are 40 Physical Movement activities detailed in 101 Physical and Brain Fitness Activities for Seniors.

Non-Physical Movement Activities 

I also sprinkle in non-physical movement activities.  In addition to physical movement activities, I also throw in fun activities that are not so physical.  These may include Sing Alongs where we can sing along to popular songs such Let It Be by the Beatles, Happy by Pharrell Williams, or Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd.  On occasion, I surprise my seniors with Band Play where I pass out a bag full of different instruments such as tambourines, maracas, a couple of small guitars, and bongos that we play to a couple of high energy instrumental songs.  I’ll even through in some brain fitness activities such as Think Fast to give the opposite word.  101 Physical and Brain Fitness Activities for Seniors provides 61 brain fitness activities from which to choose.

Humor. Humor is good for the soul.  Although I don’t take humor out of the suitcase, it comes in with me every Saturday morning.  I show my seniors a silly side of me at times and they give it back to me as well.  I don’t mind singing, playing in the band, or showing off my dancing skills with them.  Showing the “real” me tends to make them smile and even laugh out loud.  And, most importantly, it makes them glad to see me and me glad to see them.

So now you know my motivational movement bag of tricks to make seniors move, laugh and smile.  This information is provided in much more detail in my book 101 Physical and Brain Fitness Activities for Seniors.