17 resources for care home Activity Co-ordinators and staff – all tried and tested by us for use in care and nursing homes.
Please feel free to treat this as a handy guide that you can refer to when you need a little inspiration.
Table of Contents
- Pictures (with PDF)
- Poetry (with PDF)
- Music (free playlist)
- DVD (free sample video)
- Relaxation activities
- Arts and crafts
- Fragrances and scents
- Card games
- Live pictures
- Sentence stems
- Reminiscence objects
- Intergenerational activities
- Pot planting
- Mobility exercises
- Creating a display
- Food for thought
1. Picture Cards
Sharing pictures of familiar objects, people and scenes from the past with older people is a very effective way of triggering reminiscence and conversations.
Pictures can be printed on card, laminated, presented to a group and handed to individuals as a way to prompt conversation. For each picture, you can ask whether people can identify what is in the picture? What memories does the picture bring back to them? All suggestions are welcome and expect the conversation to go off in a number of tangents; the picture may trigger thoughts and memories relating to a related topic or theme.
Good pictures are clearly recognisable. Pictures should have a clearly defined outline to help those with visual impairment. For pictures of people, it helps if the image is a close up of someone’s face.
To help you get started, we have put together a pack of eight reminiscence images, all of which we have tried and tested in care homes with older people.
Here are eight sample images, together with conversation starters, that you can download and print out in colour for use in your next activity session.
2. Poetry Please (with printable PDF)
Poetry is a highly effective way of encouraging reminiscence – this is because you can introduce a large number of themes and topics in a short space of time and see what resonates best with your residents.
You can encourage residents to contribute at the end of each verse or rhyming couplet.
Our top tips for reading poetry aloud are:
- select poems which are best suited for your audience – those that encourage reminiscence create a spark in people’s minds
- use a lot of expression in your voice
- read at a pace appropriate for the poem
- pause after each line, allowing time for your group to contribute
Poem with activities and conversation starters
We have prepared a printable poem called Love Songs together with conversation starters which can be downloaded by filling in the form below:
We have also written three poetry books which can be purchased individually or together on Amazon. We have used all poems in care homes, nursing homes, hospitals and lunch clubs with older people including those living with dementia. Each poem in our books comes with many activities and conversation starters. Our books have also been used by families to engage older relatives.
3. Music, Song and Dance
A good old fashioned singalong is something we have found older generations are very happy to participate in – singing, humming, miming, tapping, anything goes. It’s a lovely way to bring the group together. Many people will remember singing hymns at school or at church and singing in choirs or in the army or navy. What songs does your group remember singing and can they remember the lyrics? Remember to check everyone can hear the music.
We have created a playlist of songs that have proved particularly effective in care home activities:
4. DVD (with free sample video)
Television can be introduced into your care home activities through our original reminiscence activity DVD which contains poetry, over 100 images and live photos and many conversation starters. There is enough material for 7 themed activity sessions. Click here to find out more.
Here is a free sample of an activity video from the DVD. You can make it full screen and play on a laptop or iPad.
5. Relaxation activities
During your care home activities, depending on the composition of the group, you can always offer time for reflection.
Beneficial activities can include meditation, hand massage, breathing exercises, listening to music or relaxing sounds.
Playing relaxing sound effects such as the sound of the sea, rainfall, whale song, pan pipes.
If possible, bring in a scented oil diffuser to create a relaxing, spa-like scent in the room.
You could try the following backing sounds, all free to use from YouTube:
6. Arty Crafty Care Home Activities
You do not have to be an aspiring Renoir or Constable to deliver or participate in effective arts and craft activities.
Bring your group’s creative and artistic skills to the fore in care home activities with some of the ideas below. Your residents will be delighted by what they can achieve, and even use, afterwards. With a little help, they will perhaps remember skills and expertise from yesteryear.
“I never thought I would be able to do that again.“
This is a phrase we have frequently heard when doing arty crafty activities.
Here are our favourite arts and crafts activities (you can Google these or look on Pintrest for inspiration):
- Flower collages using paper and tissue paper
- Flower arranging
- Making ‘fat balls’ for bird feeders
- Making clay tiles
- Wax resist pictures
7. Fragrances / scents
Did you know our sense of smell is closely linked with memories, perhaps more than any other sense? We believe this makes fragrances and scents a very effective feature of reminiscence activities.
Fragrances and scents have a magical way of bringing back memories from the past in a way words alone cannot capture. Here are some suggested fragrances / scents that have worked well in care home activities, together with conversation starters.
- Bourjois – Soir de Paris– is a classic vintage female fragrance. This is still available from Amazon. What other perfumes do your residents like? It is more reminiscent if you decant perfumes into a traditional diffuser such as the one shown above.
- Lavender bags – these can be made from lavender from the garden. Dry the lavender heads and combine two parts lavender with one part rice. Cut two 3 /4 inch squares of fabric and align them with the sides you like facing inwards. Hand sew the squares with a running stitch on three of the four sides about 1/4 inch in from the edge. Turn the pouch inside out and spoon in the filling. Sew the last side. These can be used in drawers and wardrobes or given as presents.
- Bovril – you could swap delicate floral fragrances with the familiar smell of Bovril, a meat extract very popular in the 1950s which you can obtain in a jar from a supermarket. You can talk about how it was a common hot drink in the 1950s, particularly in the colder months of the year. Don’t forget to have a taste.
- Hyacinths – are one of a number of flowers that produce a lovely scent to share with your residents. Many residents will have their own favourite flowers and scents e.g. roses, lilies, pinks and freesias.
- Freshly Baked Bread or Cakes – the comforting smell of freshly baked bread or cakes is always well remembered. Visit a local bakery and obtain some freshly baked bread or ask the kitchen to prepare some cakes for people to smell and to eat. What memories do people have of the family-owned bakers on their high street? Do they remember Mum’s baking?
8. Card Games
Many of your residents will be familiar with playing traditional card games such as bridge, whist, cribbage or rummy. Introduce them into your care home activities. Perhaps you could ask your group who knows how to play different games, so that people can find others to play with after the activity session. Or you could simply ask the group to reminisce about playing cards growing up with family and friends. Which were their favourite games?
9. ‘Live’ pictures
Live pictures bring scenes from the past to life.
A new innovation from Bonnie Day is the use of ‘live pictures’ from the past to encourage reminiscence in care home activities. Live pictures are images of objects and scenes from the past that have been animated to create a more immersive experience. They can be used with an iPad, on a computer laptop, SmartTV or even DVD.
The first ‘live pictures’ we have created can be found on our DVD.
10. Sentence Stems
For encouraging conversations in your activity sessions, sentence stems can be a great way of getting chat underway. When doing this activity, write the sentence stem out and display it in the centre of the room for everyone to see. You should go first, thus providing an example of what to say e.g. ‘I used to love it in my garden… when my children were small and played on the grass.’ Then each resident has a turn, completing the same sentence. There are many topics that this works well for, but here are a small selection of our favourites:
- I used to love it in my garden when…
- In my greenhouse I grew…
- My favourite shop was…
- At my Primary School I used to love…
- When I was on holiday I always…
- In the 1950s/1960s I remember wearing…
Remember all comments are valuable and do not worry if there is repetition as the residents are engaging in the activity.
11. Reminiscence Objects
We highly recommend bringing a selection of iconic objects of the past with you to your care home activities. You should select objects which are easily recognisable and can be handled safely. Also consider texture; is an object recognisable by shape and touch alone? This may be relevant for visually impaired residents.
Here are some objects that can be easily sourced and have worked well in care home activities. You can obtain them from boot sales, charity shops or high street pound shops and Amazon.
Topics to discuss:
- What were Dolly pegs used for? (a wooden clothes peg used for hanging out washing to dry on a washing line).
- Why were they called ‘Dolly’ pegs? (their shape, with a round head and forked is vaguely anthropomorphic )
- Can you remember how much work it was to do the laundry in the 1950s?
Topics to discuss:
- Can your group remember skipping at school and when playing in the street? Skipping was a very popular pass time.
- What skipping songs did you sing as a child?
- What did you call the two people on each end of the rope that turned the rope?
- Can you think of other childhood games (hopscotch, Cat’s cradle, spinning tops, jacks, conkers…any more?)? How did you play them?
Mixing bowl and wooden spoon
Topics to discuss:
- Can you remember baking cakes with Mum as a child?
- What were your favourite recipes?
- Do you remember the family bakers? What was your favourite bun or baked treat?
- Do you remember the smell of freshly baked bread?
For further ideas on discussion points around objects and artefacts see our poetry books which are full of hundreds of ideas.
Hats for all occasions are always well received in care home activities
Hats are wonderful dressing up items in care home activities. It’s possible to theme a whole activity around hats but they work well for many topics. Activity staff should have a nice selection of hats in their store. Images of hats from the past also work well. Residents like the opportunity to choose. Hats were usually worn during the post-war period and people have a good recollection of them.
Reminiscence topics based on hats could include the following:
- Do people remember how everyone wore hats in the 1940s/50s?
- Ask residents to recall different types of hat, for example:
- Ask them which hat Winston Churchill was famous for wearing? (Homberg/Top Hat)
- What about Jackie Kennedy? (Pill Box) Tommy Cooper (Fez), Queen’s Guardsmen (Busby).
- What types of hat did people wear to school and what did they look like? (e.g. Boater, Cap, Beret).
- What hats did babies wear? (Baby bonnets)
- What kinds of hats did people wear to a wedding? (Veil and many other types of hats including fascinators).
13. Intergenerational activities
‘As in spring when young buds grow,
They first were warmed by winter snow.
And like the seasons, I have found,
Human life goes round and round.’
One of the things older people derive great joy from is interaction with the local nursery, primary or secondary school students. This is another example of connecting the care setting to the local community and is enormously valuable. Children enjoy these sessions too. Some of the most effective care home activities involve references to the past and reminiscence. All generations can learn from each other and all like to share their skills and memories.
Liaise with local schools to see what opportunities might be available and how this can be achieved in practical terms.
14. Pot Planting
Fill a number, enough for one per resident, of pots with earth and buy a variety of seed packets. People tend to really enjoy the simple act of planting seeds and watching them grow. Progress can be checked each week and you can arrange for the plants to be watered regularly. We have found the best seeds and beans to use for this purpose are: cress, runner beans and sunflower seeds. Planting the beans in a clear glass jar shows the growth of the root and the stem.
This activity may trigger a discussion about plants, gardens, allotments and greenhouses which usually brings back lots of fond memories and reminiscence stories.
15. Mobility exercises
Exercises to improve mobility can be great for older people’s wellbeing and provide a lot of entertainment. Sessions can can include training with weighted objects, dance and certain forms of yoga.
It goes without saying that only well qualified people should lead activity sessions to improve mobility. We recommend speaking to companies like Oomph who are established in this area.
16. Creating a display
A display is a wonderful thing to have to form the basis of your care home activities. It can provoke discussion. You should select items which are easily recognisable and relevant to the theme of the activity you are presenting. You should offer residents the opportunity to use items. The display, cost permitting, can then be kept in the care home or set up prior to the activity session to advertise the activity session.
17. Food for thought
This is an area that can involve all staff in a care home. Of course all dietary and medical needs including food and drink allergies of individuals should be taken into account. All cooking and baking activities should be thoroughly risk assessed as part of the standard procedure in the home.
The preparation of food and drink makes the house a home and encourages an atmosphere of inclusion. Daily menus for visitors can be displayed which encourage visitors to join in the life and community of the home.
We’d love to hear what you think of our suggestions above. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave your thoughts in the comments below.