Think back to some of your best friends from childhood. Whether you met at school, the playground or your neighborhood, those friendships likely began when one of you simply said, “Can we be friends?” If only it were that easy as adults right? It seems the older you get the less opportunity you have to make new friends and, let’s be honest, the more intimidating it becomes to step out of your comfort zone. Yet, social connection is just as important now as it was then, perhaps even more so. In fact, it may be the key to health and happiness as you age. Here’s why, and how to keep connected.
Lessons in Loneliness
With all the dos and don’ts to keep track of to age well, it’s understandable that loneliness isn’t high on your list of concerns. It’s a part of life that happens to everyone at some point, right? That’s true, however that feeling of loneliness can be a signal of a very real concern: isolation.
The AARP cites isolation as a growing health epidemic that’s as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Where loneliness is a feeling or perception of being alone, isolation is different as you can quantify it by the size of your social network and/or your ability to access it for example. That’s why isolation is defined as being detached physically or psychologically from support groups of family, friends and community.
According to AARP, isolation affects nearly 1 in 5 older adults. The negative health effects of chronic isolation and loneliness include higher blood pressure, increased susceptibility to the flu, greater risk of heart disease, earlier onset of dementia – even an increased risk of death by as much as 45 percent.
Isolation is rarely caused by a single event but these factors put you more at risk:
- Living alone
- Hearing/vision loss
- Limited mobility
- Limited transportation options
- Being a caregiver for someone with a serious condition
- Chronic health conditions
- Psychological or cognitive challenges
- Life transitions such as retirement or the loss of a spouse
Tips for Staying Connected As You Age
Now that you know why it’s so important to stay connected as you age, you should also know that there are a variety of ways to do just that. It may take a bit more creativity and effort than when you had young kids and work as go-tos for common ground, but it will be well worth it! And will make life much more fun! Here’s how:
- Use technology to nurture your existing relationships with friends and family. It’s easy to overcome barriers such as distance, mobility and/or lack of transportation with smartphones and tablets that have video chat apps such as FaceTime or Skype, or even through social media such as Facebook.
- Take stock and ask yourself what you enjoy doing, what you’d like to learn and what you’re good at that you could share, for example. Then, look at locals resources for groups, clubs and classes that fall within those interests to find like-minded people.
- Try something new and really step outside that comfort zone by adopting a new hobby, learning a new skill and/or language, learning an instrument, even approaching a familiar task in a different way. This not only expands your social circles, but also keeps your mind sharp, another to-do to age well.
- Volunteer your time with a favorite charity, with causes your friends and family take part in or check sites like SeniorCorps for additional local opportunities. It’s a great way to find renewed purpose and give back to your community as well.
- Get a pet if you don’t already have one as there’s nothing animal lovers connect with more than those who share their passion. Whether it’s the dog park, cat cafe’ or reptile Saturday at the pet store (it could be a thing), this is a great way to make new friends.
The Senior Living Connection
If you think achieving and maintaining these connections on your own is more of a challenge than you’d like, there is another way. Most senior living communities have a dedicated program director and monthly calendars filled with activities and enrichment opportunities for just about any interest. Plus, it’s right outside your door!
Take Richfield for example, our Assisted Living, Memory Care, Nursing Care and The Rehab Center each has its own social calendar tailored for residents that includes:
- Classes – Cooking, Crafts, Painting, Poetry
- Outings – Restaurants, Movies, Events, Shopping
- Clubs – Red Hat Society, Men’s Club
- Special Events – Live Entertainment, Antique Car Show, Pet Visits
- Pampering – Manicures, Facials, Aromatherapy, Hand Massages
- Games – Bingo, Trivia, Wii Bowling, Balloon Volleyball, Karaoke, Puzzles, Brain Games
- Socials – Birthday Celebrations, Sunday Sing-a-Longs, Seasonal Treats
- Church Services and Bible Studies
- Fitness – Sit & B-Fit Classes, Yoga, Water Aerobics
- Cognitive Enrichment – Reminisce Corner, Sensory and Music Activities
- Volunteer Opportunities
- Educational Events