A few years ago, I read about a genius sales tactic that a popular retail clothing store was using to keep customers in their stores for longer. They had a special room with toys for men who would accompany their partners to the store.
The aim was to divert the attention of the boys by engrossing them in/;’ the toys, which would give the girls all the time they needed in the trial rooms. The strategy worked like a charm. In fact, it increased the footfall in their stores.
So, why am I talking about this? Well, the point I am trying to make here is that toys offer such an immersive experience to humans that they have the very real ability to make us forget stress, anxiety, negativity, and even physical pain. Anybody who has raised kids will attest to the power of toys in calming an agitated munchkin.
Use the right toys and you can get the same effect on any person, regardless of age, including on older adult. And that is the reason why toys for seniors have turned into such a popular gifting option and why they are frequently used in senior care centers.
As a matter of fact, such are the tangible benefits offered by these products that even giant toymakers like Hasbro have jumped onto the bandwagon of toys for the elderly. The best part is that you can achieve more than just mental calmness with these products. Continue reading to know how they help and the best options available…
The Benefits Of Toys For Older Adults
The thing about toys is that they offer multi-sensory stimulation and call for the investment of various cognitive resources. In other words, while the players get completely engrossed in playing with them, these toys actually strengthen various brain centers and the player’s ability to use them. Take a look at some of the benefits that you can expect from these products:
Stress release and relaxation: Toys engage the sense of sight and touch along with the brain’s problem solving and hand-eye coordination abilities. To add to this, there is the sense of accomplishment that can be derived by playing with even simple toys and games like Lego blocks and puzzles.
In other words, you give the brain something other than stress and anxiety to focus on. Also, toys are a fantastic way to keep boredom away, which also helps to relax the mind. Together, these effects help to neutralize stress and agitation.
Improvement in physical healthy: Even a simple toy like a ball or a stuffed toy/pillow can be used to play catch. What I am trying to say here is that physical movement can easily be made a part of play therapy in a fun and wholesome way.
Since any kind of physical activity brings about an overall improvement in health, there is a lot to gain from playtime with toys for seniors.
Increased social interaction and confidence: Because games often involve the participation of more than one person, they offer a fantastic opportunity for mingling and chatting while having fun.
Plus, there is some amount of competition and winning involved, and these are sure-fire ways to give the brain a shot of dopamine. Even if it is a one-player puzzle, the act of completing it is enough to boost confidence levels and self-esteem.
Healthy tackling of emotional voids: Robotic animals and even soft toys are known to calm agitation and anxiety in older adults who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s. A lot of elderly folks live alone in senior care facilities.
Those who suffer from cognitive decline, eventually forget about their loved ones. In both cases, emotional gaps are created as the elderly long to create a bond with others and to nurture and love somebody. Apart from offering sensory stimulation, these robotic pets and even soft toys, make up for those gaps, thus enhancing life quality.
Improvement in sense of coordination, balance and perception: Whatever toy is chosen, the player will handle pieces of various shapes, colors and perhaps even textures or move them about in some way.
All these sensory inputs and the requirement for hand-eye coordination can help to greatly improve motor skills as well as perception and even balance.
Better cognitive functioning: Pick any board game and it will require the use of analytical skills as well as perception and planning. In other words, the brain is called upon to use its problem solving and decision-making skills along with its creativity.
The more you use your noggin, the stronger it gets. So, it’s no wonder that games and toys have a profound impact on cognitive functioning in older adults.
The best part about toys for seniors is that they introduce laughter and fun into the lives of the elderly. It’s easy to fall into a state of despair when there is nothing to stimulate a person mentally and physically. Toys and games for older adults offer the right amount of mental jog to keep the noggin in top shapes and negativity at bay.
What Are The Best Toys For The Elderly?
Toys for senior citizens can be categorized based on the desired effect/results they are supposed to offer. Currently available products include:
1. Companion toys
These are generally robotic pets that offer the joy of nurturing and loving an animal without the financial and physical aspects of pet ownership, which can be too daunting for many seniors. The life-like pets feel like the real thing and are often interactive, although their response is limited to only certain inputs/commands. But, this is usually enough to bring joy into the lives of many seniors who pine for companionship.
2. Cognitive improvement toys
This category includes both single and multiplayer puzzles, card games and board games that are designed to enhance memory retention and recall and even improve problem solving skills and creativity.
3. Physical improvement toys
Often used in play therapy, these are the simplest of all toys for seniors. It’s usually a single object that is used among players to work on balance, the sense of coordination and motor skills in general.
4. Sensory toys
Specifically meant for seniors suffering from memory deficits, these toys help to calm agitation and encourage active but simple participation from the player. Usually, it is one or several objects of various colors, textures, sizes and shapes that the player handles. The difference in how each object feels and looks is a source of engagement that stimulates various brain centers.
5. Fidget toys
I know a lot of us were told as kids that fidgeting was bad. Actually, it is the perfect way to allow the brain to calm itself down. The repetitive motion needed to play with a fidget toy puts the brain in a trance-like state, helping to soothe anxiety and fear and do away with stress.
6. Toys to improve communication and social interaction
There is a reason why card games, bingo and mahjong are such hits with older adults. They involve talking with folks who are part of the same group, as the player.
Plus, there is the chance of competing and winning, and together, these make up the perfect recipe for the release of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. These are brain chemicals that you need to keep the noodles working at their peak and to retain positive emotions in your system.
Top 5 Toys For Seniors
Before I tell you about the best toys for older adults, and I haven’t listed them in any particular order, let me quickly clarify that a product should not be chosen on the basis of what you think would be right or respectable for an elderly person.
The aim should be to pick a product based on the cognitive and physical abilities of the player. It’s really simple – you would not get a rattle nor a complicated puzzle for a toddler. Because the first is below and the second is above the capabilities of the player.
While mental and physical engagement should be the goal when choosing toys for otherwise healthy seniors, when you are picking a product for an older adult, who suffers from cognitive decline, it is crucial to keep his mental stage/state in mind.
Such individuals regress in terms of mental capabilities. In other words, they don’t become childish but their mental capacity goes into rewind mode till they get to a point where they become child-like. So, what you find disrespectful may very well be delightful for them; case in point the very first toy in this list:
1. Realistic baby dolls
I know, most of us would think that it is too demeaning to get something like a life-like baby doll for our elderly parents. But, there is ample evidence to suggest that these dolls not only bring a great deal of joy to seniors suffering from dementia but also offer them comfort and help to calm them down.
Frequently, dementia and Alzheimer’s patients go into a suspended state, so to speak, where they stop reacting and responding. Even seniors who are in such advanced stages of the disorder react in a wondrous way to these dolls. They are often seen singing, rocking and talking to the dolls; all of this can help to re-establish communication between seniors and caregivers/loved ones.
2. Hasbro’s robotic pets and PARO
Hasbro offers both cats and a dog in their “Joy For All” series of toys. The electronic pets are interactive toys that respond to touch and sound. The cats are available in 4 colors and are able to purr, move their paws, head and body and they even open and close their eyes.
The dog is a golden pup and just as responsive to human inputs. While the cats in the series have been around for some time, the pup is a new addition and will cost you about $20 more over the $90 price tag of the feline friends.
The top of the line toy in this category is PARO, the interactive seal. It responds to sound, light and touch and the user can name it and the toy will then respond to its name. PARO is technologically superior to Hasbro’s toys, and it also comes at a considerably higher price of $5,000.
3. LEGO for seniors
Do not underestimate the entertainment and engagement value of this classic toy! Lego bricks not only provide sensory stimulation but also help with motor skill and creativity. With endless structures to build, seniors can spend hours with the colorful bricks.
The best part is that they don’t cost much yet offer a lot in terms of therapeutic benefits. For older adults with joint/bone issues or muscle weakness, choose Duplo or Mega blocks, which are bigger than regular Lego blocks, hence are easier to handle.
4. Fidget spinner and fidget cube
For toys that cost less than $15 on Amazon, both products boast of a tremendous ability to calm mental agitation and anxiety. In fact, these toys are among the most inexpensive, the safest and the most effective ways to calm anxiety and stress before they are released as behavioral issues.
For most agitated adults, including those who suffer from cognitive issues, hand clenching, grabbing at their clothes and other forms of hand movement are telltale signs of agitation and nervousness. These fidget toys give their hands and their brain something better to focus on. In fact, the repetitive action offered by these toys is so powerfully engrossing that the agitation and aggression are quickly drowned out.
5. Repeat parrot (Pete or any other talking birdie)
It does not have to be a parrot; any talking animal will do, as long as it’s a plush toy. I recommend soft toys because they are easier and more comfortable to handle. These talk-back animals are simple toys that will repeat everything that a person says. It’s hard to understand how the mimicking can benefit seniors.
The thing to understand here is that for a person who suffers from dementia the words get lost in translation, what does register, though, is the talk-back. For this individual, the whole experience is like talking to someone real. In their mind, it is an actual conversation. This was observed by Bob DeMarco, of the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, who observed his mom (an Alzheimer’s patient) treating her talking parrot like her best friend.
In addition to these, you may also want to consider fidget pillows and quilts, which are safer than small fidget toys, along with simple puzzles like tangle toys. Another option is a set of sensory toys. These are usually quite affordable, in the range of $14 to $25 and have 20 plus items that work exceptionally well against agitation, stress and anxiety.
For older adults, who do not suffer from significant cognitive deficits, opt for jigsaw puzzles in a theme that they enjoy, such as nature or architecture. Storybook stitchery kits, coloring cards and books as well as knitting kits also work very well. As you can see, there is certainly no dearth of options when it comes to toys for seniors. Most of these are very safe, make exceptional gifts and can be used in any setting.
In fact, you could couple play therapy for your kids and your elderly parents with some of these toys. However, there is one thing to be noted here. Would you allow very young children to play with toys, unsupervised?
If you answered that with a “No”, there is no reason to allow your elderly parents, who suffer from significant cognitive decline, to play on their own. It is best to be around when they are enjoying their toys. And with that, I have come to the end of this article. I leave all seniors out there with my best wishes for years of fun with their toys!