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Guest blogger: Mike Sutherland


Topic: Geocaching

There are millions of geocaches worldwide. Geocaches are found in parks, urban areas, forests, deserts, on top of mountains — pretty much anywhere you can imagine. There are probably a few near you right now!  Geocaching is a real-world treasure hunt that uses GPS (just like the way you navigate in your car using the same satellites) to help you track down containers (Geocaches) that have been hidden by others.

To go Geocaching, you will either need a phone app or handheld GPS receiver to help you navigate to the location of the hidden Geocaches.  More information about exactly how to do this can be found on the Geocaching website at www.geocaching.com


Since these Geocaches are hidden in a wide variety of locations, come in different sizes, and can range from easy to find to very difficult, it is important to consider these variables.  Understanding your clients’ abilities as well as limitations will help you pick Geocaches to find that are neither too easy or too difficult.  For example, clients using wheelchairs will likely need to search for caches that are rated 1 star on a 5-star scale with higher ratings being more difficult to access.  Larger sized caches are usually easier to spot making it easier for beginners.  And the difficulty of finding the cache, a subjective rating by the one who hid it, should be targeted toward easier (1 to 2 star ratings on a 5-point scale with 5 being very tricky to find).  You can find more details under the “Help” page at www.geocaching.com


Once you have decided on some Geocaches that fit your clients’ skills, you can travel to the location of them in the manner of your choosing.  You might take a van to a park where you have to walk a bit to reach the location of the Geocache(s) or, if your client’s have limited mobility, you can often find geocaches that you can drive right up to.  Viewing them on Google satellite maps on the Geocaching website can help with this. Or you might have your client(s) learn how to do this on a computer or phone.

The best advice is to go out and get familiar with Geocaching before introducing it to your clients.  This should include finding the actual caches that you will have them search for so you can discern the ease (or difficulty) of finding each cache so you can better suit your clients to each cache experience.  This will also give you your own ideas about how this hobby can help your clients reach their goals.

Even from this brief description of Geocaching, you begin to see the potential it has for improving the function of your clients.  First, the physical components can help with mobility, specifically community mobility and reintegration as they make the journey to ground zero (a common Geocaching term for the location of the hide).  Second, the cognitive components of Geocaching can be as challenging as you would like them to be.  For example, having a client simply try to discern the location of the cache or the best route to take to ground zero could be challenging.  For those wanting a greater challenge, one could learn to use the app or handheld GPS receiver to locate Geocaches.  For the highest functioning clients who want a challenge, some types of Geocaches are “Puzzle Caches” which use ciphers and other challenging ways of encrypting the coordinates of the hide which must be solved in order to make it to the proper location.


Another aspect of Geocaching that can be functionally rewarding to your clients is the social component.  Since this hobby is often done in groups of friends, you can immediately imagine how easy it could be to incorporate social opportunities with this activity.  For example, one might allow someone to team up in a manner that fosters enhanced cooperation with another client or therapist.  Or someone could step up into a leadership role as they lead the group to ground zero and/or assign different members of the group different roles during the search (e.g., “You could search over here, and you might start over there”).

Geocaching is a great activity to teach your clients in an effort to get them more active after they return home.  It is a fun activity for those of all ages making it perfect for older folks to do with their grand children or for parent to do with their kids.  It teaches respect for nature and the value of spending time outdoors which has been proven to be good for pain mitigation as well as emotional enhancement.  The goals which can be realized by this activity are really as limitless as your imagination and creativity!

So get up, get out, and go use those million dollar satellites with your clients.  You can begin using this free activity any time and in any place you happen to be working.  Go to the website at www.geocaching.com

and take a look at all the hides near where you are right now.  It’s a fun and functional way to help them reach their goals!


I received my M.Ed. from the University of Toledo in 1995. I reside in Miamisburg, OH and have been working in Dayton, OH for over 20 years, most recently for Encompass Healthcare in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. My clients include those who have had brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, strokes, amputations, and other diagnoses. When I am not working, I am usually helping my wife with our many pets, working out at the gym, or out hiking/looking for Geocaches.