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The Truth About Play & Why It’s Not Just for Children
Elizabeth Bemis

By: Elizabeth Bemis on September 13th, 2021

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The Truth About Play & Why It’s Not Just for Children

assisted living  |  Senior Living Communities CT  |  senior health  |  senior health tips  |  Independent Senior Living  |  healthy living  |  independent living in ct

In childhood, play is practically a way of life. It’s how kids relate to one another, how they spend their free time, how they discover the world around them. As we age, however, play seems to become less and less of a focus in our everyday lives. Work and responsibility begin to take center stage, and play is often relegated to a tiny corner of our minds. The truth is play remains as valuable and important as ever, regardless of age. In fact, learning to reprioritize play can bring about major benefits for seniors in terms of health and wellbeing.

Here, we’re exploring how play impacts the human mind, body, and soul, and why it’s vital for seniors to afford this aspect a greater role in their lives.


Uncovering the Science of Play


“Play is the gateway to vitality,” explains the National Institute for Play, founded by leading expert Stuart Brown, M.D. Dr. Brown’s book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, delves into this science and highlights why play is so critical for humans, at all ages and stages of life. It also explores the negative effects a sustained failure to engage in play can have on anyone. 


“By its nature, it is uniquely and intrinsically rewarding. It generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy, and promotes a sense of belonging and community. Each of these play by-products are indices of personal health, and their shortage predicts impending health problems and personal fragility.”


Amid Dr. Brown’s early studies, he found a gap in science and evidence-based ways of understanding play and eventually turned to animal play research to gain insights into human play. As he observed animal play in the wild and became acquainted with animal play experts, he began to see play as a long evolved behavior important for the well-being and survival of animals. In turn, he came to understand that humans are uniquely designed by nature to enjoy and participate in play throughout life.


“Each person has a unique play personality… when one remains in touch with it. When it is actualized, it empowers and brings pleasure to life.”


Breaking Down the Specific Benefits for Seniors


Truly comprehending what play can do for seniors requires a closer look at three specific areas: neurology, physiology, and psychology. By breaking down the outcomes of play in these particular categories, we can see why “focusing on the fun” should be a greater theme in the lives of seniors. 


How Play Impacts the Mind


The brain is an ever-evolving area of study, and science has increasingly shown that contrary to prior belief, the brain’s ability to learn and grow does not cease with age. Research in neuroplasticity indicates that the brain has an incredible capacity to continue changing, reorganizing, and creating new pathways, even well beyond our formative years. But in order to take full advantage of neuroplasticity, we must actively exercise our brains. This is one area where play is fundamental. It lights up the brain with its application of cognitive functions. From creativity to critical thinking, play draws on some essential brain activities and can help seniors support mental agility and minimize the risks of memory decline. 


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How Play Impacts the Body


Play that involves exercise, like sports or other physical activity, has the obvious benefit of improving heart and lung function. It can boost one’s energy level and provide lasting effects on overall health. Even less physical forms of play can impact a senior’s physiology. Laughter, for example, is known to reduce stress and release endorphins. It can even enhance blood pressure and flow, help minimize pain and contribute to chemical reactions that support one’s immune system. Play that fosters laughter, therefore, can have tremendous benefits for a senior’s physical health.


How Play Impacts the Soul


As the National Institute for Play explains, play is a catalyst for relationship-building, which enforces greater purpose and connection in the life of a senior. “Play refreshes a long-term adult-adult relationship; some of the hallmarks of its refreshing, oxygenating action are humor, the enjoyment of novelty, the capacity to share a lighthearted sense of the world’s ironies, the enjoyment of mutual storytelling, the capacity to openly divulge imagination and fantasies. These playful communications and interactions, when nourished, produce a climate for easy connection and deepening, more rewarding relationships – true intimacy.”


Re-engaging Seniors in Everyday Play


Given the neurological, physiological, and psychological advantages associated with incorporating play into one’s life, even (and especially) as an older adult, it’s no wonder play has become such a hot topic in the area of senior lifestyle. 


“Older people need play just as much as anyone,” says Pat Rumbaugh, cofounder of Let's Play America. “As we age we lose our strength, flexibility, and sometimes we have senior moments, but when we laugh and play we feel great. Seniors deserve to feel good, just like any other age group. Seniors who don't play are missing out on being carefree, playing games either alone or with others. Whether people play a board game or do something physical, both bring joy. Playing takes you away from your troubles. You let everything go for a while and enjoy the moment.”


For seniors who find themselves living alone or losing touch with the many connections they once maintained, finding opportunities for fun and play can become more and more challenging. This is an important reason to consider whether you or the senior in your life could benefit from the perks of a senior living community. It’s a great place to find the kind of socialization and connection that fosters play in everyday life. Senior living communities provide a special environment where human contact and the potential for fun are plentiful.


To find out how United Methodist Homes provides a wealth of offerings and opportunities to support the health and wellbeing of our residents, contact us today or schedule a complimentary visit now. For additional tips on senior health and lifestyle issues, check out our blog


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About Elizabeth Bemis

In 1998, I drove past an assisted living community construction site, learned that it was part of United Methodist Homes and realized the next stop on my professional journey was to work for a mission driven organization. Soon after, I joined the team as Executive Director of our Middlewoods of Farmington community and later served as Regional Manager for the Middlewoods properties before accepting my current role as Vice President of Marketing, Promotions, and Assisted Living Operations. I enjoy spending time with my family, cooking, reading, walking, and love working alongside our staff, residents, and families to build strong communities that reflect the mission, vision, and values of United Methodist Homes.

Our Blog is a 2016 Platinum Generations Award Winner! The Generations Award is an annual international competition for excellence in senior marketing recognizing professionals who have communicated to the 50+ Mature Markets.