Social Connections Keep Seniors Healthy

  • April 18, 2019
Social Connections Keep Seniors Healthy

The connection between seniors and loneliness has been talked about for years, but recent studies on the subject have found that more than 40 percent of seniors experience loneliness on a regular basis and that loneliness and isolation are slowly becoming a public health crisis.

Feeling disconnected from friends, family, and the community as you age can have a detrimental impact on physical and mental health, leading to a greater risk of experiencing a heart attack, stroke, depression, anxiety, and even death. In fact, research has shown that loneliness can be as harmful to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

Addressing the Issue of Seniors and Loneliness

Reasons for experiencing greater feelings of loneliness and isolation with age are varied, including the death of a spouse, the loss of independence (such as the ability to drive), and chronic health issues. Because each occurrence is highly personalized, it’s challenging to approach the issue of seniors and loneliness with a blanket solution.

Regardless of why a senior may be feeling lonely, there are several ways to intervene to help improve their health:

  • Speak with their physician. Assuming that they see an internist regularly, there is no harm in calling and leaving a message with their doctor. Patients are not always upfront and honest with their doctors, so having insight from a family member could help them ask more pointed questions at their next appointment.

  • Recommend counseling. Whether they are grieving the loss of a spouse or partner, are struggling with depression, or just seem withdrawn, a therapist or counselor can help them work through complicated feelings that are preventing them from living a more connected life.

  • Consider companion care. Similar to hiring a caregiver to help a senior with chronic health concerns at home, hiring companion care can help combat seniors and loneliness. While they may be resistant to it at first, with a little bit of patience, persistence, and the right approach, they will eventually come around.

  • Encourage them to join a club or volunteer. Social groups for seniors exist in part to help create connections later in life and foster a greater sense of community. The experience of making new friends can be less harrowing for older adults when it happens under the guise of pursuing something they are passionate about.

Social Activities for Seniors to Try

Sometimes the problem is as simple as wanting to join social groups for seniors but not having the right tools to find ones in your neighborhood. If you are unsure about where to begin to find clubs and social activities for seniors in your area, there are resources available to you—both online and within your community—that can help you get started.

  • Churches, temples, mosques, and other faith-based organizations. Not only will your chosen place of worship have access to a wider community, but they will also probably have their own volunteer needs that you can help them with. Faith communities provide great opportunities and social activities for seniors.
  • Local senior center or YMCA. These local community programs often get overlooked, but they provide excellent social activities for seniors and are usually more affordable than other private options. Although the programming will differ between communities, you will most likely find everything from exercise classes, to art activities, to volunteer opportunities.
  • Use the Internet to connect to like-minded people. Websites like Facebook and Meetup have made it easier than ever for people of all ages to connect with others who have similar interests and passions. You can find social activities for seniors across every type of interest—from book clubs to gardening clubs, to political activist groups, to bird watching. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for on one of those sites, you can always start your own group on the platform and invite people to join.
  • Plan a senior-friendly vacation. Sometimes limited mobility or chronic health issues can prevent seniors from pursuing their passions, including travel. But there are travel agents who specialize in senior trips for those with unique needs, such as cruises with dialysis machines on board and wheelchair-friendly tour groups. Having a medical condition or limited mobility shouldn’t be a reason to lose your independence out in the world!
  • Volunteer. Research has overwhelmingly found that there are an abundance of health benefits associated with volunteer work, especially as an older adult. One of the biggest advantages of volunteering is warding off loneliness and isolation. Find a cause or organization that you are passionate about and show up to help them on a regular basis. You might be surprised by how quickly your own troubles seem to dissipate.
  • Take continuing education classes. Many universities and community colleges now offer continuing ed classes geared towards seniors. Not only is this a great way to find social groups for seniors, but it’s also a wonderful way to learn new things and keep your mind sharp as you age.

Stay Connected at Home

Connecting with others is a big component helping seniors combat loneliness. In addition, to have more face-to-face interactions with others, having the means to connect to the outside world from your home is equally as important. From maintaining your internet connection to inviting friends and neighbors for tea, to investing in a medical alert device, remaining connected to the outside world is guaranteed to help you improve your quality of life and even live longer.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hilary Young is a health and wellness expert that specializes in both senior life and caregiving. She'd love to hear more about your thoughts on aging, healthy living, and caregiving, and you can find her on Twitter at @hyoungcreative to start the conversation.

KEYWORDS: seniors and loneliness, social groups for seniors, social activities for seniors

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