The Importance of Staying Engaged in Life
Numerous studies have shown that socialization is an essential element to healthy aging. Our need for connection is innate — humans are social creatures, after all. Isolation can lead to loneliness, which has been shown to have a serious negative impact on health, including increasing your risk for heart disease, stroke, and dementia. This makes staying connected to family and friends an essential part of aging well.
However, the older we get, the more our opportunities for socialization start to decline. We may no longer go to work every day. Health issues like mobility, hearing, or vision loss may isolate us. Our spouse and friends may have passed away. Because of these issues, seniors are particularly vulnerable to isolation and loneliness. Here are some tips to help you or someone you love stay engaged in life.
Be a “yes” person
Make it a priority to accept invitations, even if in the moment you don’t feel like being social. Often the hesitations we have in that moment are overcome by the fun we have later on. If you want to reach out, don’t be afraid to call up a friend and invite them out for coffee or a movie. When you see a neighbor, invite them to stop over for dinner or dessert. Put “getting together with friends” at the top of your to-do list every day.
Be it through volunteering or attending community events, your community is an excellent place to start if you’re looking to meet new people or connect with your social group.
Volunteering is a great way to meet new people who share a cause you believe in. Additionally, it gives people a sense of purpose, which is also good for your health. Visit volunteer.gov to look for opportunities in your area. Find a local senior center in your community and attend events. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to discover places and opportunities to meet other seniors.
If getting out of the house is difficult, you can still connect with others online. A University of Exeter study concluded that adults aged 60 to 95 who received computer equipment and training “had heightened feelings of self-competence, engaged more in social activity, had a stronger sense of personal identity, and showed improved cognitive capacity.” Some older adults are even taking to playing video games with their younger family members to stay connected.
Find a support group
Many seniors isolate themselves because they are living with a condition that makes it difficult to get out of the house or causes them to feel embarrassed to be with others. A support group can be the perfect answer for those in this situation. Spending time with people who share your challenges and concerns can be very empowering and helps ease loneliness and depression.
Get a pet
We talked about the many benefits of pet ownership in our last blog post. Animals can be just as social as people, and they often provide older adults with a therapeutic sense of companionship. Older pet owners report feeling far less lonely; walking a dog is also great exercise and provides even more opportunities for socialization – people are drawn to animals and you may be surprised how much attention your pet will bring.
Discover transportation options in your area
For many seniors, one of the biggest roadblocks to staying socially engaged is finding reliable transportation. They may no longer drive and riding public transportation can seem too confusing, expensive or unsafe. Fortunately, most major metropolitan areas have options for seniors. In Massachusetts, you can find out about your options here.