Recently, I came across some fascinating research by Stuart Brown, MD, a psychiatrist who founded the National Institute on Play and is widely known as “the father of play research.” Studies that he and other researchers have conducted show that play – defined as any activity that’s “fun, purposeless, and all-consuming” – isn’t just kid stuff. Rather, play is essential to wellbeing throughout life.
I’ll certainly vouch for that. Over the years, I’ve learned that, once I start feeling overwhelmed by all the “to do” items on my lists, it’s time to take a break and do something that doesn’t serve any purpose other than engaging and making me feel happy. Things like golf, going to orchid shows, getting together with “gal pals,” discovering new neighborhoods, competing with my husband on the Wii, and lately, scoring on “Angry Birds.” In short, I play!
This year, the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA) — which has designated May “Older Americans’ Month” – has come up with a particularly fun theme for the month: “Never Too Old to Play.” To celebrate, we at the Foundation for Health in Aging hope you’ll join us in celebrating this important month – by playing. With this in mind, we’d like to share some of our favorite ways to play, as well as some of the terrific suggestions for play that the AoA recommends.
These suggestions for play are appropriate for families with older members; residents of long-term care facilities and those who care for them; and you and your neighbors, of all ages:
- Organize an intergenerational family Wii bowling tournament.
- Play Charades, chess, Scrabble, Uno, Pictionary or other favorite board games.
- Invite your neighbors to a kite-flying contest or croquet tournament at a nearby park.
- Help organize or contribute to a block party complete with games of chance.
- Paint a community mural (with permission from your local representatives, of course).
- Plant something – whether in a pot on your windowsill or in a large community plot – gardening connects us with living, growing things and is fun and therapeutic.
- Make music – sing in the shower, play an instrument alone or in a group, or just clap your hands to a song on the radio.
- Take a walk and smile and say hello to passersby – it’s contagious and can generate some playful conversations.