It’s an iconic American scene representing retirement: older adults sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch. Though retirement does have its leisure benefits, it’s important for retirees to choose hobbies, exercises, activities or volunteer opportunities that will not only fill their days, but also keep their body, mind and spirit at their strongest points.

“The old adage is true: if you don’t use it, you will lose it,” said Kate Franklin, therapeutic recreation therapist and Life Enrichment Director at Wesley Place on Honeysuckle in Dothan, Alabama. “Whether you live in a retirement community setting or not, people in retirement should find a hobby or something to do where they can be engaged, body and mind. Something to keep them going.”

Staying engaged in life and socializing with others helps older adults overcome the loneliness that can set in when the comfortable and familiar routines of work life come to a halt, and work relationships are suddenly severed. Older adults must find new routines, new people, and new things to do to maintain health and a sense of worth and purpose.

“If people are just sitting and watching TV, they lose a lot of muscle and brain stimulation as well,” stressed Kate. “In the retirement community setting, activities are more than just bingo & dominoes. We’re constantly providing regularly scheduled routines, exercises and engaging activities. This is deliberate.”

Kate is a fan of schedules that provide satisfying structure to the days and weeks. She plans events and activities on the calendar every month at Wesley Place on Honeysuckle that reflect the things that current residents have shown that they like, but keeps the times of the activities the same. For example, an exercise class is held at the same time every day. The exercises themselves may change, but the structure brings a sense of routine and expectation.

She explains how daily simple stretch exercises help the body maintain flexibility and range of motion. Stretches are ways to maintain one’s ability to reach high up in the cabinets at home, to bend down low under the sink, and reach far back in a closet for an elusive item. “In our community, we’re especially attentive to movements that help people continue to bathe, eat, bend, grab, and the like,” Kate emphasized. “We’re helping people to keep functions that if lost would quickly lead to loss of their independence.”

For brain stimulation, Kate is sure to schedule a lot of trivia, in its general form and in the form of other games, like hangman. The calendar is full of trivia, puzzles, word phrase games and singing to keep the neurons firing.

“It’s my job to encourage people to come out and to try something new,” said Kate. “Their joy and happiness levels increase when they participate in life. And it’s not always structured.” Kate described how an aviary in the common room has become a popular place to mingle and watch the birds. People find that their retirement community neighbors are their friends.

Kate Franklin is a native of Dothan, Alabama. She graduated from Northview High School, and attended the University of South Alabama in Mobile where she obtained her degree in therapeutic recreation. Although Kate is new to the Wesley Place on Honeysuckle team, her love for older adults goes back to childhood. Her grandmother lived with the family all of her life, and as a college student she volunteered at a senior daycare in Mobile, and enjoyed internship in a long-term care community. These experiences gave her a love for older adults and a fondness for the activities side of retirement and nursing home life.

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