Have you noticed your parent or an older loved one becoming more withdrawn and having less socialization as they age? It’s a common scenario; approximately one-third to one-half of the elderly population report feeling social isolation and loneliness.
As we age, the social networks that supported us for most of our adult lives – such as work colleagues, friends from church, even spouses and family members – eventually begin to unravel due to changing life circumstances, relocation, or even death.
Lack of regular socialization can have a negative impact on seniors’ physical and mental health. In fact, studies have found that the health risks of prolonged isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. On the flipside, keeping an active and connected social life has been found to delay memory loss and Alzheimer’s in older adults.
Cultivating healthy relationships is important for a fulfilling and meaningful life at any age. You can help your loved one live their best life by finding new ways to stay engaged with others:
Address Underlying Barriers
Begin by understanding what things may be holding mom or dad back from socializing like they used to. Some seniors may be less confident in social situations due to health problems – maybe they can’t hear as well as they used to and are afraid of getting lost in the conversation. Perhaps they’re worried about being caught in an embarrassing situation due to incontinence. Maybe their declining vision means they don’t feel safe driving at night anymore.
Work with your family doctor to address the issues that can be remedied, explore alternative transportation options, and think about what you can do together to adapt outings so your loved one can confidently participate.
Start Out Small
Don’t expect someone who has been a homebody their entire life to transform into a social butterfly overnight. Think about starting off with some low-stakes activities where they can experience the benefits of socialization without being the center of attention, and allow relationships and friendships to naturally blossom over time.
Some examples include attending church services or listening to an educational lecture at a senior center or community college. Group exercise classes are a great way to meet people, and of course have the added bonus of health benefits! If transportation is an issue, many hospitals are always looking for handicraft volunteers who can sew, knit or crochet items from home to donate, which can help seniors feel a sense of purpose and connection.
Don’t know where to start? AARP has an online directory of senior centers, volunteer opportunities, exercise classes and meet ups near you.
Pick up the Phone (or iPad)
Although there’s nothing like a face-to-face conversation, video chatting can help bring distant relatives closer together, at least virtually. Sometimes a simple phone call can make a world of difference. The Friendship Line, a free service operated by the Institute on Aging, provides non-emergency emotional support for callers. Trained volunteers will also call eligible seniors for regular well-being checks. The 24-hour, toll-free line can be reached at 1-800-971-0016.
Start a Dialogue about Retirement Community Living
For many seniors, retirement living can help them live more abundant social lives. The Life Enrichment teams at our Providence communities offer an engaging variety of classes and activities that appeal to a wide range of interests. Several communities offer transportation services to off-campus events and shopping centers. And once you’ve gotten to know your neighbors, it’s easy to meet for a cup of coffee, enjoy lunch together, or take a stroll around our beautiful grounds.
When you’re ready, we want to answer your questions about life at one of our Providence communities. Visit one of the websites below and reach out to learn more:
- PARK PLACE OF ELMHURST (Elmhurst, Illinois)
- SARATOGA GROVE (Downers Grove, Illinois)
- VICTORIAN VILLAGE (Homer Glen, Illinois)
- VILLAGE WOODS (Crete, Illinois)
- ROYAL PARK PLACE (Zeeland, Michigan)
- PARK PLACE ST. JOHN (St. John, Indiana)