Every year in July, Therapeutic Recreation Week is celebrated to increase awareness for innovative and enjoyable therapy and to shine a light on alternative and more naturally holistic therapeutic approaches.

Disabilities often leave people with side effects that can differ in their intensity from person to person, making individualized care plans for each patient a necessity. Therapeutic recreation mixes enjoyable activities with physical therapy treatments and the combination has proven to effectively and profoundly help people cope with their anxiety, stress and overall mental state that is associated with a given diagnosis.

What is Therapeutic Recreation (TR)?

Even if you have never heard of the concept of recreational therapy, it is exactly what you are picturing when you hear the phrase. Therapeutic recreation is usually prescribed by a physician or therapist and is incorporated into a routine to help patients cope with their disabilities or disorders.

Therapeutic Recreation Ontario (TRO), defines recreation therapy as a process that utilizes functional intervention, education, and recreational participation to enable persons with physical, cognitive, emotional and/or social limitations to acquire and/or maintain the skills, knowledge and behaviors that will allow them to enjoy their leisure optimally, function independently, with the least amount of assistance, to participate as fully as possible in society. Therapeutic recreation intervention is provided by trained professionals in clinical and/or community settings (TRO, 2003).

We can see that specially certified professionals are able to help people with developmental, physical or mental disabilities and this includes any seniors who are having aging related challenges. This is an approach aimed at keeping seniors healthy and active for years to come. The premise is that maintaining a high activity level now will help people stay active longer as they age.

How Does Therapeutic Recreation Work?

This holistic approach to healing has been applied in hospitals and in rehabilitation homes. The physical challenges of rehabilitation and recovery can often be eased with therapeutic activities throughout the day according to a set schedule. The objective is to allow for creative approaches to helping people deal with their disabilities.

First, the program should begin with an assessment by a professional who then establishes the baseline and goals to achieve. A holistic health approach is key for this type of recovery because it encompasses more than just the physical parts of the body. It also aims to improve or stabilize the cognitive, emotional, and or social needs of the individual.

Second, the therapist will work with the individual and their family members to accomplish specific goals. The role of the therapist is to develop programs to ensure the individual’s needs toward meeting their goals are being met. This is a crucial part of the program, especially if any of the patients live alone. If a family member has a caregiver, it is encouraged that the caregiver be present at the appointments, so they may take notes and reinforce the therapy by correctly continuing the necessary actions when they are alone with the patient.

Serving the Elderly

Results will likely be seen in the physical form first as physical and occupational therapists will be focusing on achieving bodily goals with their rehabilitation routine or care plan. Making therapy fun and interesting motivates the loved one to continue their exercises which helps them reach their ultimate goals.

Falls are the number one reason for hospital re-admissions. If there are any gait problems, having a strong and enjoyable therapy routine will help keep someone from falling and assure their ability to live independently at home.

Individuals with high blood pressure who undergo stress reduction recreational therapy realize the benefit of a healthier heart, a more active lifestyle, and the option of living independently in their own home.

Aside from the physical advantages, seniors gain other benefits from recreational therapy. They receive cognitive stimulation and social engagement. Also, they learn an increasingly open communication style that encourages them to express themselves in a way that they may never have been able to before.

For individuals with high anxiety or depression, TR has been shown to noticeably improve a prognosis with a boost of self-confidence that comes from learning and demonstrating they can perform activities of daily living (ADLs) and independent activities of daily livings (IADLs) without assistance.


If you are thinking of what type of “activity” might be best for you, here a few to select from to put together your own sequence of TR activities:
• Gardening (potting and planting rather than extensive weed work)
• Cooking
• Dance/Drama
• Music
• Writing
• Arts & Crafts
• Wellness & Fitness
     Mindful Walking
     Tai Chi
• Aquatic Therapy

When thinking of what specific activities may be best for yourself, ask questions like: What risks do I have in life? What changes would lower these risks? Do I have any physical disabilities that prevent me from therapeutic activities?

Long Term Results of Therapeutic Activity

Western medical practice has proven to be the most advanced technologically when it comes to fixing people and that’s because that’s exactly what it was designed to do, fix people. Unfortunately, there is a large percentage of people who only get a temporary fix or a band aid. Western medical systems prolong chronic diseases by not treating the root cause and not building a strong, long-term foundation to tackle diseases. Therapeutic recreation is geared to creating lifestyle changes that promote healthy living, vitality, and longevity over the long-run. The goal is to create a lifestyle that will allow people to enjoy activities that will prevent them from spiraling down a rabbit hole that lands them back in the hospital.

By engaging in various activities, it could mean living independently at home longer, being able to do tasks such as walking to the grocery store to pick up a few items or taking fewer prescription medications. As you can guess, if a person is able to perform these independent activities of daily living (IADLs), then they have a better chance of safely living alone and comfortable in their own home for as long as they want. With a healthy and active lifestyle, a person can stay active over a longer period of their lifetime.

As more and more Americans are getting to the age of retirement, it is important to create a mindset that promotes healthy lifestyles and self-sufficiency. Baby Boomers will be hitting age 65 at a rate that America has never seen before, and it is crucial for their health and well-being to become engaged with their surroundings.

Whether it is by taking on any of the physical activities listed above, volunteering, learning new skills, or embracing animal therapy, people of all ages, with or without disabilities, must take steps to create a healthy and self-fulfilling lifestyle for their benefit and for the benefit of our society.


*TRO standards of practice. (2003). Retrieved from http://trontario.org/index.asp