As seniors age, they risk becoming isolated for many reasons: the death of a spouse or friends, loss of mobility or an inability to live independently. Should a spouse become ill, the other spouse may take on the role of primary caretaker, which creates additional social isolation.
Social isolation in the elderly is a real concern. Data show that many people age 50 or older are affected by isolation. Those who describe themselves as lonely have a greater risk of functional decline and death compared to those who are socially active.
Why Should Seniors Socialize?Healthy relationships benefit people of all ages. But social interactions for seniors are especially important. Consistent socializing helps seniors stay emotionally, mentally and physically fit. Spending time with others reduces the potential for social isolation in the elderly and the resulting symptoms of depression, cognitive decline and disease. Whether seniors are aging in place or living in assisted living, there are many opportunities for socialization which can improve quality of life. Here are five suggestions:
- Join the community senior center: The U.S. has about 15,000 senior centers that provide a wealth of opportunities to socialize, from cooking classes to day trips to volunteer opportunities and even job training.
- Learn something new: Many local community colleges offer continuing education classes for community members. Many classes are free or offered at reduced rates for seniors. Taking a class provides a chance to learn something new and connect with others with similar interests.
- Explore a hobby: Many communities have clubs with specific focuses like gardening, painting or woodworking. Seniors can share activities they enjoy with friends.
- Join a fitness group or center: Keeping physically active is important at all ages. Older individuals benefit from increased mental and physical health while exercising and socializing with like-minded people.
- Volunteer: Seniors who can volunteer within the community benefit from building new social networks and defining new roles for themselves. Volunteer opportunities abound in soup kitchens, hospitals, thrift shops, local literacy programs, foster grandparent programs, Senior Corps or Meals on Wheels.
Benefits of Social Interaction in the ElderlyConsistently participating in social activities delivers multiple physical, emotional and mental health benefits for seniors. The benefits of participating in activities for the elderly can include:
- Improved brain health: Socializing requires seniors to actively participate in conversation and stay engaged. Studies have shown that an active social life improves cognitive function.
- Increased physical activity: Being social and being more physically active can go hand-in-hand. By being more active, seniors can maintain or improve heart health, retain muscle tone, support healthy bones and more.
- Reduced stress and lower blood pressure: When seniors socialize with others whose company they enjoy, those relaxed environments can reduce stress, which lowers blood pressure and shrinks risks of a heart attack or stroke.
- Lower risk of developing depression: Seniors who lead active social lives feel less isolated and lonely. People who withdraw from the world often become sad, disinterested and anxious, which can lead to depression.
- A slowed decline in health: Data show that being socially active can reduce the progression of declining health. Why? Because socially engaged older people may actively choose to maintain their health more than their more isolated, less-social peers.
Risks of Social Isolation in the ElderlyRemaining socially active is important as we age. But it becomes much harder to cultivate friendships the older we grow. That can leave older people vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness and their resulting risks. Those risks can include a decline in physical and mental health, obesity and diabetes, an increase in stress and anxiety, and earlier death.
5 Tips for Elderly Socialization in Assisted Living HomesSometimes, a move to an assisted living home can bring seniors more opportunities for socialization. Diverse activities for residents are designed to help everyone find the social outlet that resonates. Those activities can include:
- Craft classes
- Wii and tabletop game nights
- Outings to local restaurants or shopping centers
- Miniature golf
- Exercise programs like chair yoga or morning stretch
- Bible study, devotionals and other on-site religious services
- Talk to the other residents to see who shares a common interest. Schedule times to chat over a cup of coffee, go for a walk or take turns visiting each other at home.
- Talk to the activities director to get a full picture of all the activities available and to share your interests.
- Look at the calendar of events to see what programs and events are offered on particular days.
- Participate in community volunteer opportunities.
- Join one (or more) of the clubs in the community.