Actively living: 'Tennis,' Sherlock Holmes keep minds, bodies engaged in facilities for elderly

Actively living: 'Tennis,' Sherlock Holmes keep minds, bodies engaged in facilities for elderly

September 3rd, 2013 by Karen Nazor Hill in Life Entertainment

Laurie Osment laughs as she tries to hit the ball during a practice game of volleyball with women in the Senior Shades program at Garden Plaza assisted living facility in Cleveland, Tenn.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.


Here are some ways to help elderly adults stay active and engaged:

• Adult day programs or day care: Offer field trips, health and social clubs, exercise, support groups and other activities.

• Senior centers: Classes, support groups, meals and daily programs can be found at these centers.

• Meals on Wheels: Gives recipients - often shut-ins - a chance for regular social contact and conversation.

• In-home caregiver or companion: Offer everything from simple companionship to clinical nursing.

• Get a pet: Mental and physical health benefits of animals has been shown in numerous studies.

• Peer counseling: Senior Peer Counseling, a national volunteer program, sends trained counselors to visit in the home, at senior centers and other locations or over the phone.

• Volunteering and education: Most communities have numerous volunteering opportunities; some seniors may be able to find part-time jobs to keep them busy. Taking a class, either in the classroom or online, can keep them connected to the outside world.

• Community-based nonprofits: Such groups provide such programs as volunteering to visit the elderly, running errands for them, calling shut-ins to make sure they're OK, and more.


Doris Caves, right, and Burceil Wood play balloon tennis at Manorhouse Assisted Living in Chattanooga. Residents sit in a circle and hit a balloon back and forth to one another with fly swatters.

Doris Caves, right, and Burceil Wood play...

Photo by Maura Friedman /Times Free Press.

Wayne Gothard looks forward to his weekly tennis game.

Balloon tennis, that is.

Played indoors.

The 79-year-old has been a resident for nine months at Manorhouse Assisted Living on Mountain Creek Road. A former athlete who played golf six days a week for nearly 30 years, Gothard still is mostly mobile thanks to an electric wheelchair.

And he's keeping active with his game of balloon tennis in which players, who are seated, swat a balloon -- instead of a tennis ball -- back and forth with "racquets," basically fly swatters with a plastic hand attached. The game was designed by physical therapists.

"It's a lot of fun ... and a pretty good physical challenge," Gothard says, noting that each player enjoys the laughter as much as the game. "If we had a bunch of sourpusses trying to play, I wouldn't enjoy it at all."

Move over shuffleboard and bingo. Today's seniors in assisted living communities are upping their game and fun by participating in activities that are physically and mentally challenging.

A 2011 study conducted by the International Longevity Centre found that seniors perceived a higher quality of life when engaged in social activities. The study said that a sense of optimism is a bigger factor in happiness and quality of life for the elderly than level of education, income level, social class or home ownership.

Sally Reeve, activities director at Manorhouse, says balloon tennis is popular because it's fun, "and you're never too old to have fun."

"The game is definitely a physical workout" she says. "It's a fun time coupled with much laughter. Heaven help us if we can't have laughter in our lives.

"I hope that I never get to where I cannot have fun, laugh or talk," Gothard says.

Reeve says activities at Manorhouse are designed for both mind and body.

"It is our feeling that not only the body should be kept in good shape but also the mind," she says. "We design activities to include wellness for mind, body and soul. We feature many musical programs because music speaks to each of us -- one way or another."

Gothard says he enjoys other activities at Manorhouse, including an exercise class, trips outside the facility, musical programs and going out to eat with other residents. And, he admits, he's even starting to like bingo.

Detective work

Just down the street from Manorhouse at another assisted living facility, The Terrace at Mountain Creek, some sleuthing is keeping minds active. Some residents are members of The Friends of The Soldier Named Murray, a club dedicated to all things Sherlock Holmes.

Chattanooga attorney and Terrace resident Jody Baker started the local club, the only one hosted in an assisted living community that's sanctioned by the international Sherlock Holmes Society.

"One of my favorite Sherlockian quotes is 'Education never ends. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last,'" Baker says.

The club, he says, is similar to a book club "and more" and began in September 2012 when several Terrace residents formed a literary association to study and discuss the Sherlock Holmes tales.

"There are monthly meetings for discussion of a different story at each meeting," Baker says. "At the meetings, members and visitors discuss some of the finer points of the tale under consideration. They enjoy the informal atmosphere of camaraderie and collegiality. The attitude of each meeting is: 'Let the fun begin.'"

Eleanor Anthony, left, returns the ball over the net as women practice volleyball at the Garden Plaza assisted living facility in Cleveland, Tenn.

Eleanor Anthony, left, returns the ball over the...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

The Terrace's "residents are very active and are always open to something different and educational," says Mike Usher, community relations manager at the facility. But even he was "surprised how quickly the group meshed and grew."

"It is important to keep our residents engaged in different activities and social opportunities, including off-site activities and a wide array of activities in the community," he says. "The Sherlockians is another way to reach out to our residents who enjoy meeting new people and staying involved in a unique activity."

Fierce competitors

At the Garden Plaza at Cleveland, Tenn., there's a competition brewing between some of the women and men residents -- a volleyball tournament. And there's no one more excited for the games to begin than 90-year-old Lois Beach.

"I have eight brothers, so I'm used to the competition. I'm looking forward to the competition with the men, and the ladies are going to beat them" says Beach, a three-year resident at Garden Plaza. "It's an excellent exercise for a 90-year-old, especially the shoulders and wrist. It keeps your mind alert, you mix with people, keeps you on the move."

Beach is very vocal in her excitement over the volleyball tournament, says David Dailey, recreation director at Garden Plaza.

"She talks daily about how it motivates her and gets her excited about getting out of her room," he says. "[They] have been practicing and getting ready to challenge the men's club."

Beach, a retired chairman of the Science and Mathematics Department at Lee University, also is a member of Garden Plaza's Senior Shades, a club similar to the Red Hat Society, the society of women 50 and older known worldwide by their dedication to wearing red hats in "their pursuit of fun, friendship, freedom, fulfillment, and fitness," according to the group's website.

"We started Senior Shades with the thought of trying to have a club of our ladies similar to the Red Hats," Dailey says.

The group meets twice a month and participates in activities ranging from cooking to crafts, including making pillows for the local cancer center.

Contact staff writer Karen Nazor Hill at or 423-757-6396.