Science Projects for Seniors Can Stimulate Brain Health

Using science for seniors as part of your activities program can help stimulate the brain and contribute to the resident's quality of life.

Seniors in a nursing home doing an activity
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Every day, scientists around the world are discovering new planets outside our solar system, learning new ways to use plants, and unraveling the mysteries of the oceans. Activity directors can use these discoveries for a one-hour, hands-on program called Science for Seniors.

Example Ocean Science Projects

This award-winning program (first place award for best practice from the National Certification Council for Activity Professionals), Science for Seniors has four parts: select a topic, present fun facts, watch a video on the subject, and do a safe experiment with residents.

Example: the ocean.

  1. Fun facts: the blue whale is the largest creature to ever live on Earth. He has a heart the size of a small car and veins so large a human could swim through them.
  2. Experiment: demonstrate the density difference between fresh and saltwater. Take two glasses; fill one with saltwater and one with fresh water. Ask residents—will the egg float, in both glasses or in either glass. Then place the egg in the freshwater—it sinks. Now place the egg in saltwater—it floats. This is because the salt makes seawater denser than freshwater.

Science for Seniors contributes to a robust activities program. It is more than a way to encourage discussion and participation in assisted living communities. It is also a way to strength brains.

Clive A. Wilson is the author of the book, No One Is Too Old to Learn.

He believes adults can learn new concepts and sharpen their minds throughout life because brain plasticity continues to occur late in life.

Science for Seniors helps bridge a communication gap among residents and their new neighbors. I worked with a very quiet resident who served on a Navy submarine during WWII by building a Science for Seniors program around this topic. An activity staff member built a submarine model from refrigerator-sized boxes. As part of the fun, the sub model was painted yellow and residents entered the science program to the Beatles song, “The Yellow Submarine.”

The Navy veteran told his fellow residents about his life on the submarine, answered questions from the audience, and beamed in delight at the four foot by six foot by three-foot cardboard model of a submarine.

Residents watched a video on submarines and then the Navy vet assisted me in demonstrating how a submarine submerges and raises through the use of plastic soda bottles. Afterward, this resident found the confidence to engage with other residents.

That kind of one-on-one interaction, which meets a particular need of one resident, not just a group together, is a key component of culture change.

Science for Seniors starts dinner conversations, gives residents new things to talk about with visitors, and provides residents who are former teachers with a new forum. The expression, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” dates back to 1907—and has been proven false.

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