Our understanding of how the brain and body work continues to evolve, and one of the more interesting findings is how we’re able to put playtime to better use.
We’re not talking about running outside for recess as a kid, although those breaks from our lessons did have their value, especially to younger students. But we’re more interested in a concept called therapeutic recreation or recreational therapy, something the staff at Accredited Home Care advocates for a lot of reasons, especially our physical therapy staff.
Therapeutic recreation offers people a variety of activities that are designed to be fun. At the same time, they’re also intended to help people with mental or physical medical conditions. Taking part in these activities may not necessarily cure these conditions, but they can provide an outlet and help one’s emotional health, psychological health and take the steps to recover from past trauma.
Examples of recreational therapy can include physical activity that is able to help the brain tune out and think about other matters while the body moves, such as running, walking, or yoga. These activities also can count as physical rehabilitation if this is needed, as well as providing healthy endorphins that help the brain.
Therapeutic recreation can also be more of a hands-on activity like creating art which also lets someone express their emotions or a difficult experience if they have difficulty verbalizing it. Many veterans are using art therapy to help process what they may have experienced in the service, even if they find it difficult to tell their stories.
These types of programs have been used to help people with anxiety, depression, or various stresses. Some are done in group situations, which provide a safe and welcoming place for people going through similar experiences, and also can help people socially.
Some programs are created by Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists who have been trained to design activities that strike the right balance between fun and therapy. Other times they are designed by people with training in certain areas who can adapt their programs for certain age groups or conditions.
Activities for seniors
Therapeutic recreation is especially useful for seniors, who may need ways to boost their physical or mental health.
That’s why many assisted living centers have programs to encourage people to socialize and enjoy activities together, whether it’s arts and crafts, group stretching, fitness, or games.
In-home health situations, caregivers can come up with a variety of programs for their clients. The benefits for seniors can include:
- Improved mobility. Perhaps someone has difficulty walking due to pain, injuries, or a condition that affects their walking like a stroke. A recreational activity that emphasizes ways to improve balance, flexibility, and strength could be useful, especially if it is combined with other programs like physical therapy or occupational therapy. Depending on someone’s condition and abilities, it could start as simple as stretching or walking with a walker or cane and then work up to walking without these aids. It also has the benefit of improving cardiovascular health if your whole body is being active.
- Improved brainpower. Programs can also be designed to help cognitive development as well. This can include activities such as puzzles, games, and other activities to help connect neural pathways and more. This can even work in dementia situations, where, although some specific memories may not come back, someone can enjoy hearing certain songs or dancing.
- Overall health. Proponents of therapeutical recreation say there are some other benefits that can come from participation in recreational therapy. In some cases, it can be a better outlook on life. This can come from improving areas that have been limiting the quality of life. If someone is now able to walk better and further without worrying about falling every step, for instance, they may have more confidence and begin to venture out again and feel more comfortable with themselves. Removing some of the negatives can offer a spiritual or emotional boost for many.
- Creative outlets and expression. Programs that allow people to express their emotions through performing or fine arts can have the bonus of being able to share the creation with others. Paintings, poems, stories, memories, songs can be a new activity to learn or an activity they may have done earlier in their life so some of the good feelings remain. A regular “creative session” with others can be stimulating and give them something to look forward.
Recreational therapy can be beneficial all year long, but summertime is when there’s extra emphasis on its value.
Each July, since 1984, the National Therapeutic Recreation Society has designated the second week of July as National Therapeutic Recreation Week. It’s an annual opportunity for providers in a particular area to let their community know more about what they do, and for consumers to learn about different options to help their pain and other medical conditions.