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Who Said Therapy Was Boring?

Types of Recreational Therapy & What They’re For

A year ago, a video from one of our communities went viral. Seniors at our San Juan community, Residence, were seen by over 24 million viewers around the world dancing Silento’s ‘Watch me (Whip/Nae Nae’). Comments on the video expressed viewers’ desires to live somewhere as fun as our community when they reach their golden years. And while our seniors certainly have fun, as is apparent in the video, what few know is that their dancing was more than a regularly scheduled activity at their senior community. It was therapy!

Alzheimer’s is a progressive and irreversible disease that is characterized by the degeneration of nervous cells in the brain, and cerebral mass shrinking. It affects memory, time and space perception, intellectual capacity, and behavior. If you are familiar with this, it’s likely that one of your loved has Alzheimer’s. There is a lot of information about this illness out there, and certainly much of it is of great value, but what often goes unmentioned is how Recreational Therapy can help.

Recreational Therapy is designed to help develop physical, social, mental and emotional capacities by using activities according to the person’s necessity and area of impairment. Its main goal is to provide joy and motivation to a patient’s life. Sorielys Bartolomei, Specialist in Recreational Therapy with over 15-years of experience and the artist behind our viral video, works with our residents to ensure that these activities improve their life on a day-to-day basis. According to her, choosing the right type of therapy for an Alzheimer’s patient depends on the level of progression of the person’s disease.

For patients who remain functional, with moderate memory impairment and the ability to respond to their environments, she recommends the following:

  • Social activities that promote interaction with other patients. Examples: Theme parties, birthday celebrations, holidays, dinners, movie afternoons, cooking classes or spiritual activities.
  • Active games that engage their reflexes and coordination. Examples: Wii bowling, Tennis with balloons rather than balls, parachute or grab and toss ball games.
  • Passive games that keep their minds engaged on a task. Examples: Board games, cards, bingo or domino.
  • Movements that keep their bodies active and their weights healthy (We recommend that these be hosted by a certified professional who specializes in this population). Examples: Dance therapy, Zumba Gold, Silver Sneaker, walking, swimming or aerobics.
  • Cognitive games that exercise their short-term memory. Examples: Scavenger hunts, ‘Complete the sentence’ games, memory card games or ‘scategories’.
  • Music therapy to help them relax and think about the good old days. Recent studies indicate that the area of the brain that stores music memories is the least affected in Alzheimer’s patients. This means that songs they’ve heard before will likely make them reminisce. Examples: Favorite songs from their youth, nature sounds or instrumental music.
  • Art Therapy to help them concentrate, foster patience and tolerance, lower stress levels and express creativity. Examples: Coloring books, Greeting Card creation, Hat Making, Mask Decorating or Picture Frame Building.
  • Animal therapy to help improve their social, physical and emotional capacities. Examples: Certified therapy dog visits, low-maintenance community pets like birds or cats, supervised aquarium visits or accompanied petting zoo outings.

In later stages of the disease, where patients might have limited speech, mobility or complete memory loss, they might still be responding to certain stimuli. In these cases, Sorielys recommends a more customized and one-on-one approach to recreational therapy.  She recommends assisted versions of the activities above, depending on the person’s capacities and needs.


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