Keep Your Parent Socially Active

Socialization is crucial to healthy aging, and it can happen over a meal, a cup of tea, or shared experience. Continue to encourage your loved one to connect with peers any way possible.

Consider your personal calendar. Is it packed full of coffee dates with friends or party plans with family? Your social life is an important part of more than just your day planner. When you take time to connect with friends over the phone, or over a cup of coffee, you are nurturing your emotional health as well as your cognitive wellbeing. This type of social connection is even more important as we age.

Benefits of Healthy Socialization

Recent studies have demonstrated the importance of remaining socially active in the retirement years. Research in Journal of Health and Social Behavior has linked healthy social connections with longer life and increased mental health, for all ages. A more recent article published in the Journals of Gerontology decided to see exactly what affect socialization played in the lives of older adults. This research noted that seniors who remained socially active had a decreased chance of declining daily functioning or cognitive loss. Scientists and sociologists continue to research the important connection between socialization and seniors, but one thing is certain: isolation at home only increases health and cognition issues.

Many seniors find themselves living at home alone, or with a partner, and a reduced social calendar. It is important, though, that you encourage your aging loved one to get out and about, making connections that will benefit their physical, emotional, and mental health.

Barriers to Socialization, and Solutions

Older adults face challenges when it comes to socialization. These barriers can seem insurmountable without a bit of encouragement and guidance. As you notice any road blocks to healthy socialization, you can offer these suggestions.

Some seniors are not socially active because they no longer drive. This transportation issue can be a big one, as most social opportunities are outside of the home. Solutions for this predicament can be using public transportation, finding a ride through a rideshare service or with a friend, or carpooling with other participants headed to the same destination.

Older adults may not seek out social opportunities because they feel they are receiving enough at home with their partner or roommate. While having a partner at home can offer the chance for around the clock conversation and mental stimulation, it typically doesn’t happen that way. While the term “isolation” often refers to one person alone, isolation can still happen with a pair of seniors living at home alone. If this mirrors your situation, you can encourage both seniors to attend groups outside of the home together.

Seniors can also choose to skip social opportunities because their friends are not available. Many older adults face this problem and can lose friends to death or to moves across the country. These losses can be especially damaging to more than just social health. Significant losses can cause depression and further isolation. While you cannot produce friends that share decades of memories together, you can encourage connection with peers throughout the neighborhood or senior center.

Others may shy away from social gatherings because of personality. Introverts are sometimes perceived as being shy or socially awkward, but research now shows that introverts simply crave meaningful and deep friendships. They shy away from small talk, which can be a part of a new social environment, and instead want to talk about deeper conversation topics. If your older loved one doesn’t find joy in attending an ice cream social at the senior center, perhaps a support group or spiritual study group would be a better fit to receive the benefits of a tight knit peer circle.

Finally, some seniors avoid social situations outside of the home due to medical conditions. For example, older adults who are living in the early years of dementia can know they are forgetful. This realization can cause feelings of embarrassment or anxiety in social situations, which leads to an isolated lifestyle. Beyond memory loss, seniors can also stay away from social situations due to chronic pain or mobility issues. In these medical condition cases, it is best to find ways to make your loved one more comfortable and confident. Encourage them to take an over the counter pain medication one hour before they are scheduled to leave for an event, or practice getting in and out of their car using their new cane or walker before the event date. For those seniors with memory loss, encourage social connection in smaller groups, or at events where staff are trained in memory loss challenges.

Where to Find Social Opportunities

You may struggle to find social opportunities for the senior in your life. Once you know where to look, you can use these resources to plan out the month’s calendar together with events that seem interesting to your loved one.

Most park districts, whether in a busy metropolis or a small rural village, offer events specifically for seniors. This is a wonderful place to start, as most will have events planned for the quarter and printed in a guide you can take with you. Look for events and for trips, reviewing the description with your loved one and noting any special considerations (like walking distance) that you need to prepare for.

Other local agencies that offer senior activities can include the library or city senior center. These organizations typically offer daily events including exercise classes, lunches, entertainment afternoons, and lectures about senior friendly topics. You may be able to find city transportation easily for these locations as well.

Churches sometimes offer senior specific programming like Bible Study or support groups. However, not all churches offer religious based programs, but secular programs too. Try to find a fellowship lunch or dinner, as sharing a meal with other people has been proven to encourage not only cognitive benefits, but also nutritional ones.

Remember that not all social opportunities need to take place outside of the home. Work with your loved one to plan a monthly coffee for their friends, or a weekly dinner with family members. If making a full meal or breakfast spread is beyond what your loved one can do, order pizza or drop off bagels before the event. Chatting with new or old friends in their own home can be just as therapeutic as going to the senior center.

Finally, consider setting up weekly or daily visitors from a paid caregiver or nearby family members. These visits can not only be a way to check for health or safety concerns, but also as a way for your loved one to connect with someone on a consistent basis.

Socialization is crucial to healthy aging, and it can happen over a meal, a cup of tea, or shared experience. Continue to encourage your loved one to connect with peers any way possible.


Sources:
  • Kimiko Tomioka, Norio Kurumatani, Hiroshi Hosoi; Social Participation and Cognitive Decline Among Community-dwelling Older Adults: A Community-based Longitudinal Study, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, gbw059, https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbw059
  • Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior51(Suppl), S54–S66. http://doi.org/10.1177/0022146510383501
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