Compassionate Caregiving: The importance of leisure and play

Remember when you were a child, and you spent hours and hours building a fort in the backyard — so much so that when your mom called you in for dinner, you considered skipping dinner so you didn’t have to stop?

Or, in my case, I spent hours and hours trying to emulate my inspiring and smart teachers in grade school. This took place in my official classroom in our sun porch.

Did you know that there was a purpose for that play? As we all look back, that play fed our soul.

I have a few questions for you to consider: Are we growing older more quickly because we forgot how to play? Or, do we take on the attitude that as we become responsible adults, there is no purpose for play anymore? If you knew that play and leisure would help make you feel younger and more energetic, would you schedule some leisure time every day?

You best get started and schedule these special times because play is good for you, regardless of age.

Before you plan your next leisure or play event, let me remind you what the benefits will be for both you and your loved one:

Play has been proven to relieve stress. Play is enjoyable and can trigger the release of endorphins. It helps you feel rejuvenated and energized. Endorphins are one of the factors that lead to a sense of well-being.

Leisure activities can improve relationships and connection to others. It is well-known that laughter and fun can promote trust, compassion, empathy and intimacy with others. The social interaction of leisure time also fights off stress and depression.

Play can improve your brain function and stimulate your creativity. These special sessions also can stimulate your imagination and help you become more proficient at problem solving.

The good news, too, is that you don’t have to leave your home to plan a leisure or play event. You can do it at home in the backyard, the kitchen, the garage or your craft space.

The benefits can be felt from as little as an hour of play. Be creative, and find fun things to do for fun with enjoyment as the sole purpose of the activity. Think of what you can create, construct or invent.

I also know that you have a lot of responsibility in caregiving. But the flip side of that is that leisure time can be scheduled with short breaks several times per day.

By building play into your routine, you can experience extremely positive benefits. Mark your calendar, schedule the time and take a break. Do it today, and you will feel better tomorrow.

Laura Nissen is a dementia specialist for Luther Manor Communities in Dubuque.

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