Finding connection at any age can be a challenge, but it can be particularly challenging in our later years. For seniors who don’t already have a community that they’re plugged into—a place of worship, hobby group, or friend circle—finding a group in a post-pandemic world can take a considerable amount of time and energy.
“With the pandemic lasting over several years, unhealthy patterns of isolation have become the new normal for many,” explained Laura Hunter, Marketing Director at Westminster Canterbury. “I believe there is a direct correlation between a senior’s overall health and well-being and their level of social interaction. I have talked with many seniors who have discussed how difficult social isolation can be and the effect it has had on their mental health. They have expressed their need to ‘get out around people and have interaction’ because they feel they are mentally suffering from lack of contact with others.”
But despite the challenges, there are still many great ways for seniors to connect with their community.
Plan Visits With Family
If seniors have family living close by, one of the easiest ways to stay connected is by planning routine visits. This can be as simple as an hour-long visit once a week, or something a bit more intentional such as a monthly dinner or game night.
Family members should take a bit of time to take their senior loved ones to community events or plan special meals at home together. Especially for seniors who have mobility issues or no longer drive, these routine visits can make a huge impact on their well-being.
“There is no magic answer, but the key is to do something,” said Becky Tweedy, Communications Director for Meals on Wheels in Lynchburg. “Send a card or a little package—everyone loves to receive mail! Of course, if possible, FaceTime or Zoom to include them in holiday get-togethers. If that doesn’t work, just pick up the phone and call. To know that you’re thinking about them and missing them in the midst of a gathering is heartwarming. And visit whenever you possibly can! Ask them about their favorite memories from years past. Share their stories with others.”
Join Social Activities
Whether a senior is living at home or in a retirement community, it’s important for them to remain social. Meeting and getting to know their neighbors is a great place to start. Encourage seniors to bake up a batch of their favorite cookies and safely drop them off at a neighbor’s doorstep with a note encouraging a visit. Or, if they are in a retirement community, seniors can connect with a health, wellness, or activity director to get plugged into any ongoing events.
“There is an intentional focus at Westminster Canterbury to provide as many occasions for enrichment as possible,” said Hunter. “Providing many different opportunities to learn, help others and become involved in the community brings a sense of well-being and fulfillment for those who participate. Our team members explore the activities our city has to offer so we can include as many as possible in our schedule.”
“It’s incredible to watch as people’s lives transform when they move to a community, across all levels of care,” said Brenda Dixon, Marketing Director at The Summit. “Whether engaging over meals, social events or simply connecting with neighbors passing in the corridors. The difference in assisted living—just having the reassurance that assistance is there when you need it has proven benefits to overall health and happiness. People are social creatures with diverse personalities, we are meant to be around each other and meant to have purpose.”
Enrich the Community
With age comes wisdom—wisdom that many organizations and community leaders would love to learn from. Regardless of mobility or transportation, there are plenty of ways that seniors can get involved with community enrichment and activism.
Seniors can make a list of activities that they enjoy and determine how they could benefit local organizations with those passions. If they love to garden, they could volunteer for a local gardening club. If they love to read, they could volunteer to read to kids at the library. Or, if they have career experience to share, they can mentor a young professional or offer pro bono professional consulting to a nonprofit organization. If a senior is homebound or can’t get up and about, even volunteering with a phone tree for a political or philanthropic cause could be incredibly rewarding.
Learn Something New
Education is a lifelong pursuit. In fact, research shows that continued education can help prevent cognitive decline and helps decrease the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Whether a senior wants to expand on a topic or skill that they already know, or learn something new entirely, there are plenty of local classes for them to choose from. From art and pottery classes at the Academy Center of the Arts and Jackson Heights Art Studio to sewing and woodworking workshops at Vector Space, lifelong students of all ages will enjoy honing their craft and connecting with others.