As we get older, our social circle just tends to shrink. Friends and loved ones move away. We lose others to illness or death. Even illnesses and circumstances can impact how much we are able to get out and about. Staying socially connected can be a challenge!
Ironically, this is also the time in life when social engagement is more important than ever! Studies tell us that social engagement for seniors has profound effects on health and healthy aging1,2:
- Being socially active is consistently associated with healthy bio-markers.
- Being socially engaged has been linked with lower levels of inflammatory markers associated with age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer.
- People who are socially active tend to lead a more healthy and active lifestyle.
- Social isolation in older adults is a major risk factor for mortality. In fact, those who reported feelings of loneliness were at a 45% greater risk of mortality. Isolated seniors were also found to have a 59% greater risk of physical and mental decline compared to their peers that were more socially active.
- Feeling lonely has been linked to quicker cognitive decline.
- Loneliness is a significant risk factor for depression. Together, loneliness and depression can serious adverse effects on middle-aged and older adults.
- Loneliness and isolation are major predictors of the elderly needing home or nursing home care.
So, there are lots of reasons to stay as active and socially engaged as possible at all stages of life, but especially in later years.
What happens when health issues or living circumstances make it hard to be social and connected to others? The easy answer would be to simply accept what is and slowly become more isolated. However, the consequences of that can be devastating.
A better solution is to find ways to work around the barriers. A few changes or adjustments can make a huge difference in quality of life for your loved one.
Find the Hot Spots
Look for places where peers gather. It might be a senior center or a local gym with a senior program. It might even be the local fishing pier or the library. The point is, folks tend to gather in unique places that fit their interests and lifestyles. And it may not always be where you think.
A good place to start is your local senior community agency. In many parts of the country, these programs are associated with local government such as the county or city. Some are managed by community non-profit groups or affiliated with churches. They may also have the skinny on the favorite local meeting spots for seniors.
Help Them Fit In
Sometimes, folks have challenges brought on by injury or illness that make going out in public harder. They might even be embarrassed. Things like difficulty eating, drinking or even toileting can be enough to keep someone home alone. You can’t change these challenges.
What you can do is find tools or workarounds to help your loved one handle their particular challenges discreetly. Things like adaptive utensils, bibs for adults (like those available at Classy Pal) or portable personal hygiene items can make the difference between staying home or staying active. When looking for adaptive items, look for items that are sophisticated, well-designed and made with mature adults in mind.
Make It Fun
We’re human. We like to do things that are fun and interesting. We tend to avoid what is boring or worse, uncomfortable. What are some things your loved one likes to do? Maybe it’s eating out. Maybe it’s visiting museums. Maybe it’s playing cards or bowling. If your senior is particularly active, check out programs like Silver Sneakers or Senior Olympics. Dance classes, art classes and other group activities can also offer ways to connect with their peers.
The important thing is to find activities and places that they might be excited to go to. And then make the plan and go. You might need to go with them at least the first few times. If it’s a new experience, they might be nervous or need a little extra help. Pretty soon, they will likely be excited to go on their own.
There’s An App for That
Sometimes, illness or some other circumstance may prevent your loved one from being able to get out and about. Staying connected and engaged doesn’t have to go by the wayside. Make sure they have a way to reach out and stay connected with peers and loved ones. A smart phone, tablet or computer is all they need. Even if your loved one isn’t very tech savvy, they can learn to use simple tools to stay in touch. Spend some time showing them how to use things like FaceTime or Skype. Help them connect with their peers and other loved ones.
Having this mode of communication is also a great way to stay in touch when you can’t be there. Being able to see and chat with your loved one in real time can let you see how they’re doing and give you peace of mind that they’re doing okay when you can’t be there.
Aging and illness doesn’t mean the end of a social life. On the contrary, some seniors find that this time of life offers some of the best opportunities for connecting with friends in ways that they couldn’t before. There’s no question that staying active and socially engaged is crucial to maintaining good health and well-being as long as possible. Helping your senior find what works for them gives them the best quality of life and gives you comfort knowing they’re living their best life.