Physical Aspects of Aging Activities

In preparation for the SENIOR SOLUTIONS season, we’ve come up with a few short activities you can share with your child in order for them to understand what it might be like for a senior citizen to do some everyday things. While everyone’s experience of the aging process is different, the following activities might get your child to think compassionately about the common physical challenges some seniors face. They may recognize that some of these challenges affect more than just the senior population, too.
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Encourage your child to try the following activities alone or with their team.  Once your child has completed the tasks, discuss what was challenging about them. Let your child explain how he or she dealt with any difficulties they experienced, and how that can help him or her with their solution to the upcoming Project.


Activity 1: Declining Vision
Serious vision loss (cataracts, glaucoma, blindness) affects 7-15% of seniors.  Among American seniors age 65 and older, 21% report some form of vision impairment.

Activity

  • To simulate cataracts, smear petroleum jelly on the lenses of a pair of old, unused glasses (please do not do this with glasses that someone still uses as the jelly may be hard to clean off!). 
  • Cover the temple area and outer edges of eyeglass lenses with construction paper and transparent tape to simulate loss of peripheral vision caused by glaucoma.
  • Try to do some daily tasks such as sorting your LEGO® bricks or building an unfamiliar LEGO model using printed instructions.  Work with your teammates to find strategies to successfully complete your chosen task.

Discussion
What was hardest about doing these tasks?  What strategies did you use with your teammates to make the process easier for the team member wearing the special glasses?

Activity 2: Arthritis
According to the National Academy on an Aging Society, “almost half of all elderly people have arthritis, and the elderly population is the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population.”

Activity

  • To see what it might be like to have limited use of your hands, tape the knuckles of each finger on your dominant hand with surgical tape (available at any drugstore) and try to sort the elements in your LEGO set. 
  • Next, try to build a simple LEGO model with your knuckles taped. Time how long it takes the same team member to build a model with taped fingers and with full use of his/her fingers. 

Discussion
Was it more difficult to pick up smaller pieces or larger ones?  Were you able to complete the tasks?  What did you do to make the tasks possible?  How much time did it take to build the LEGO model with your fingers taped? What was the time difference between building the model with your taped fingers versus building the model with the full use of your fingers?

Activity 3: Shifting Balance
One of the most common complaints of seniors is the problem of shifting balance due to a variety of factors including shifting bone and muscle strength, decline in reflexes, and shifts in hearing and vision. 

Because seniors experience decreased bone density and muscle strength, falls can be far more serious as people get older and falls can quickly lead to decreased mobility and independence.  Older people may be easily fatigued due to lower blood circulation and other factors, but because of the importance of healthy bones and strong muscles, physical activity is very important. 

Activity

  • Try standing on just your left leg.  How long can you do it?  Try your right leg.  How long?  Now try standing on one leg with your eyes closed.  Try to find a strategy for standing on one leg for longer. 
  • Bind one or both of your knees with Ace bandages (sports bandages). Create an obstacle course around the room with items such as books or sports equipment, on the floor. Try to walk around the crowded floor with bound knees.

Discussion

  • How did closing your eyes affect how long you could stand on each leg? What strategies did you find for standing on one leg for longer?  How do you think being able to see affected your ability to stand?
  • How did you keep your balance with stiff legs? Were you able to walk at a normal pace? What might help you maintain your balance as you walk with stiff knees?


Activity 4: Memory Impairment

Mild memory impairment, not to be confused with memory loss, is common as we age.  Many people come up with strategies to help them create new memories, such as remembering the name of someone new. 

Activity

  • Try building a simple LEGO model from memory.  One member of your team can build something simple yet unfamiliar, allow another teammate to examine it briefly and then try to build it from memory.  If it was easy, try with a more complex model. 
  • Try again, but try to come up a strategy for remembering the design. 

 Discussion

What strategies did you try for remembering the design in your second trial?  Did these strategies help?


Activity 5: Hearing Loss

By the time they’re 60, about 30% of the population experiences hearing loss.  By age 85, over 50% of the population experiences some hearing loss. One of the main challenges with hearing loss is that the individual may have a difficult time differentiating between background noises and the things they want to hear.

 Activity

  • Place ear plugs or absorbent cotton balls into both ears. Turn on some music and talk a teammate through some building instructions.  If the builder can continue building, turn the music up a little louder.  Have another friend start talking.  Try to distract the builder while she continues to build. 

 Discussion

How did it feel to be the person building and listening to instructions?  Were you able to block out the extra sounds around you well enough to build? 

Overall discussion questions

  • Did you experience any difficulties?
  • Describe your feelings about this experience.
  • What changes did you observe? - about yourself? - about other participants? - about other people responding to you?
  • Does the experience suggest changes in your feelings or behavior towards aged individuals?

Images courtesy of Thinkstock

Sources:  Internet Resources for Teaching and Learning About Aging, Monika Deppen Wood, MA, Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice, Rutgers University – Camden; National Academy on an Aging Society; National Institute of Health; The Lighthouse Inc., 1995.