Ideas for Skilled Nursing Activities

Ideas for Skilled Nursing Activities

Those working in skilled nursing facilities know that one of their goals is to engage their residents in activities, but it can be hard to match the right activity to each resident’s individual physical and cognitive capabilities.

While many of you are already doing some of these activities, the following list of activities may give you some new ideas.

Social Activities

  • Birthday Parties: Some residents might like to take part in decorating a room for a fellow resident’s party. Others might like to help bake and decorate a cake. The party could be set up as a private event for the resident and his or her family, or it might include fellow residents according to the birthday honoree’s preferences.
  • Ice Cream Social: You’ll need chocolate and vanilla ice cream, as well as favorite toppings like hot fudge, strawberry sauce and whipped cream, and maybe a few extras like sprinkles, crushed Oreos, peanuts and cherries. Residents can choose their favorites to make a delicious sundae.
  • Tailgate Parties: Weather permitting, cordon off a section of the parking lot and recruit staff or volunteers to park their cars together and set up a cooking area to grill brats, hot dogs, and hamburgers. Set up tables where residents can eat and bring everyone back inside to watch a game on TV.
  • Story Time: This encompasses different things. Young people can read to residents or an interesting alternative would be for the seniors to tell their stories to the youngsters.
  • Musical Events: Consider group sing-alongs with songs from various decades. Ask residents about their favorite songs and include them. Invite choir groups or musicians for recitals. Take residents on a field trip to a concert. Also, consider gathering residents in the day room to watch concert DVDs and popular musicals.
  • Board Games and Cards: Residents can be grouped according to their cognitive abilities to play games at various levels, from Candyland to Yahtzee to poker and more. Bingo is always popular and they can play for small treats and prizes.
  • Food-Centered Activities: Consider frosting cookies or baking brownies to be served as that day’s desert. Baking bread is another activity that also doubles as a physical activity since it requires some hand dexterity. Making popcorn, coloring Easter eggs, and making fresh garden salads can all provide opportunities for residents to socialize as they prepare the food.
  • Holiday Programs: Some holiday ideas include holding a Labor Day picnic or early Thanksgiving celebration and inviting residents’ families, offering Halloween trick-or-treating so children from the surrounding community can go from room to room gathering treats, and holding a Christmas decorating party to trim the tree.

Physical Activities

  • Exercises: This might include gentle calisthenics that are adapted to the residents’ physical capabilities. Bouncing, tossing and kicking beach balls also provide physical activity and mental stimulation.
  • Stretching and Resistance Training: These activities often include having residents use large elastic bands to help them stretch, tone and strengthen their arms and legs.
  • Sensory Stimulation: These activities are more suitable for bed-bound residents with diminished cognitive skills, and might include aromatherapy, audio stimulation such as listening to nature sounds CDs, or tactile therapies that involve having a resident use his or her fingers to feel textures ranging from soft to rough.
  • Pet Therapy: This activity offers a great opportunity for trained volunteers to bring certified therapy pets into the facility for the residents to interact with. Holding a guinea pig or petting a dog or cat can be very therapeutic for animal lovers and may even draw some more reserved residents out of their shells.
  • Gardening: This activity has seen a resurgence in popularity. Some residents might enjoy growing herbs in a window garden or planting flowers in pots. Although many SNF residents are no longer capable of fully tending a traditional vegetable or flower garden alone, some facilities maintain gardens where volunteers assist the residents by working alongside of them or working under their directions. At the minimum, this activity affords residents fresh air, sunshine and mental stimulation that is very much needed to keep boredom and depression at bay.


Crafts provide entertainment for the residents as well as promote manual dexterity. They can also provide residents with a sense of accomplishment and purpose that can be very beneficial to their state of mind. Consider the following crafts, but don’t hesitate to ask the residents themselves which kinds of crafts they are interested in.

  • Sewing: This might include simple hand-sewing projects, but some facilities hold regular quilting sessions where residents work on homemade quilts that are later auctioned off to help provide money to fund other activities.
  • Rug Hooking: Residents can work on small individual projects, but you might also consider a group project where residents work together to finish a larger rug.
  • Finger Painting: This activity might be better suited to a resident with diminished cognitive skills, but it can also double as a tactile therapy.
  • Painting: This craft appeals to men and women alike. Watercolors are an especially easy medium to work with.
  • Knitting and Crocheting: Residents that have previously enjoyed these kinds of crafts and still have the dexterity to do them can spend many hours creating hats, scarves, lap blankets and so on.
  • Leather Crafts: Male residents might prefer a craft like this to make wallets, coin purses and other items. This activity is usually better suited to individuals with higher physical and cognitive capabilities.
  • Holiday Ornaments: You’ll find easy-to-make ornament kits at local craft stores as well as online craft stores.