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Resident Activities
Ideas for Activities for Residents of Assisted Living

Most assisted living facilities offer planned resident activities for the residents of a community, and we touch on those in our facility activities resource, however, it is also important for the individual resident to have their own things to do. These should range from physical to social to creative activities that keep residents entertained and active, as well as strengthen social, physical and mental skills.

Common Resident Activities

Before we offer our own ideas, let's take a look at the most common activities performed by residents from the 2010 CDC National Survey of Residential Care Facilities. According to the survey, the most popular activities of residents were:

  • Television
  • Socializing
  • Music
  • Cards/Games
  • Exercise
  • Religion

View the complete details in the graphs below:


The 2% of residents that do not participate in activities are not included.

The data in this chart has been rounded and simplified.
Source: 2010 CDC National Survey of Residential Care Facilities Survey (Resident Responses)

The 2% of residents that do not participate in activities are not included.

The data in this chart has been rounded and simplified.
Source: 2010 CDC National Survey of Residential Care Facilities Survey (Resident Responses)

We explore in more detail, some of the most common and rewarding activities in other resources, and you can read more about those below:

How Music Helps Seniors

In the field of elder care, music encourages social interaction, encourage self-expression, and enhance the overall well-being of assisted living residents who fight illnesses such as Alzheimer's, dementia, memory loss, and other cognitive impairments.

Numerous Benefits

Through music, assisted living residents with these health conditions are able to live more fully. They are not defined by their conditions or their need for medicines and skilled medical care. They become engaged members of a supportive community that encourages emotional growth, sharing, and self-worth. This is vitally important to seniors who experience a number of difficult life events such as retirement, the death of a loved one or spouse, and the need for help with common tasks.

Many find it fascinating that patients with memory loss and cognitive impairments are able to sing a song in its entirety despite the fact that they are unable to have a complete conversation or remember the names of common things or even the names of their family members. While no one knows for sure why this is possible, experts have suggested that it might be that musical activities are unique because they require use of every area of the brain.

So far, experts know of no other single activity that stimulates the entire brain. In addition to this, music increases dopamine levels, and dopamine can cause a corresponding positive sense of well-being.

Defining Well-Being

So what does it mean to say that music promotes well-being? Seniors feel connected and have an increased sense of belonging. Music also brings about a feeling of self-competence and independence in seniors. They enjoy life day-to-day and gain a greater sense of fulfillment.

Self-expression and engagement are characteristics of well-being. Music allows seniors with cognitive impairments to express themselves and engage in activity that brings focus and the chance to completely immerse in something that interests them.

The Benefits of Music

Research studies indicate that musical activities have several positive benefits. Patients report better moods, be more sociable, eat better, and react more calmly to stressors. Experts say it's the "cognitive workout" for the brain that brings on these positive traits.

Stimulating Activities For Residents With Dementia

Residents Benefit from Participating
Residents Benefit from Participating

Residents that are suffering from any type of dementia benefit from activities that stimulate the brain and body. Activities designed to improve the quality of life of residents with dementia, their overall health improves. The behavior displayed by dementia patients like 'acting out' can be suppressed or even eliminated for some residents.

Even if someone is losing their memory, they can still enjoy many activities. It is not that difficult to find interesting things that anyone with dementia can enjoy. Think of simple, relaxing activities.


Everyone enjoys music and living with dementia has no bearing on the effect that some types of music can have on the mind. If one kind of music does not soothe or interest a resident, try another. Chances are that eventually they're drawn to one. Music is known to increase the flow of oxygen to the brain which has positive effects on dementia.

Sensory Activities

Sensory therapy used in treatments for a vast array of diseases and neuro-disabilities. Stimulating the senses with items such as warm wash cloths, molding or handling clay, tossing birdseed filled bags, and exposure to aroma-therapy are all wonderful additions to this type of activity.


Some assisted living and skilled facilities use catalogs with colorful pictures in them for residents to 'shop' with. If the resident is still able to handle scissors safely, they're asked to cut out pictures of items that's been placed in a list by the activity supervisor.


Modeling clay, painting pictures, or sculpting with paper mache can stimulate the mind. These activities help improve oxygen flow to the brain and increase the connections made by the brain during creative tasks. If a resident cannot handle a paint brush, allowing them to paint with their fingers is an acceptable substitute.


Indoor gardening offers both mental occupation and a sensory activity. Planting seeds in cups and watching the seeds sprout, then grow into plants is satisfying for dementia patients, even if they do not remember planting them. Plant flowers to add a colorful addition to their room and improve their mood. Vegetables are satisfying knowing you/ve grown them for snack or meals.

Video Games

Some recent studies have shown that certain video games may provide a great amount of stimulation to the brains of those suffering from dementia. For those residents that are not prone to seizures, the brain must constantly work to make sense of the graphics being viewed. The connections forged by the constant activity may help slow the rate of dementia progression and provide stimulation.

Time for a New Hobby!

If you have considered taking up a new hobby after retiring, now is the time to do so. While assisted living and retirement communities offer a wide variety of social opportunities, there are times when a resident wishes alone time. Hobbies create a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment. Every person, regardless of age needs wants satisfaction. Hobbies help fill voids that work and other stressful environments can create in an otherwise happy life.

What kind of hobbies can you participate in while living in a retirement community or ALF? The limit is only your imagination. Think of the things you love and go from there.

Potential Hobbies

  • Do you enjoy stamps? Stamp collecting is a hobby that many still enjoy today. The United States Post Office sells sheets of uncut stamps. You can find interesting designs and even stamps that depict comic book characters, movie stars, and more.
  • Scrap booking is another hobby enjoyed by millions. There are a huge amount of web sites devoted to scrap booking. Ideas on how to create scrap books and incorporate interesting items from your life abound. No longer do photo albums have to contain only photos!
  • Cooking can still be enjoyed if you live in a retirement community or ALF. Most facilities have kitchenettes for residents. Arrange small dinner parties and cater them. Plan menus, shop for gourmet items and decorate your room or a dinette - then wow your friends with your culinary prowess.
  • Gardening is another hobby that's pursued in an apartment style ALF or in a shared room. Container gardening is easily accomplished indoors or out, in summer and winter. Find other gardeners in your ALF and build a community garden that the entire ALF can benefit from. Ask the kitchen staff to include your vegetables on the menu.
  • Love video games? Current statistics show that gaming is not for kids alone. Most games developed for gaming platforms today are for adults. Computer gaming is one of the best ways to meet new people. Certain online games (such as World of Warcraft) are becoming more than a game, they have been evolving into social networks. With PC games you do not need to buy a separate gaming system, but some games (like the afore-mentioned World of Warcraft) require a monthly subscription fee.

Explore your horizons and enjoy a new hobby.

Carol Marak
Carol Marak

After seven years of helping her aging parents, Carol Marak has become a dedicated senior care writer. Since 2007, she has been doing the research to find answers to common concerns: housing, aging and health, staying safe and independent, and planning long-term.