We all know the great feeling when we’ve just spent an hour with a good friend. For a short while, we’ve forgotten our troubles, we feel more upbeat and have that lovely warm fuzzy feeling of well-being – all from connecting with someone that we feel comfortable with and can relate to. Life looks a little different, fresher and happier. This is why it is so important to keep socialising, even in our later years.
With each life change, we have new circumstances thrust upon us. In our younger years, most life changes involve interacting with more people: there’s the first job, going to university or college, getting married, parenting and raising children, and so it goes on. For elderly people the life changes start to do the opposite, shrinking exposure to activities with friends and family and withdrawing access to the community. Children have long left home. You retire. Physical problems make sporting endeavours more difficult and it’s not so easy to get out and about. Some older people downsize to a different neighbourhood and lose touch with friends and neighbours.
The potential to slow down on social interaction in our senior years is strong, but there are huge benefits to remaining social and having contact with a broad range of people all of our lives.
“Social engagement – involvement in meaningful activities and maintaining close relationships – is a component of successful ageing,” wrote Heather Gilmore of Statistics Canada’s health analysis division. Frequent socialisation is exceedingly important in maintaining quality of life. Regular socialisation helps with an individual’s perception of their health, loneliness and general life satisfaction.
Maintaining social interaction is also vital for our physical and mental health, at any age. Our immune system can also get a boost from the positivity derived from social interaction. Here’s a list of just some of the physical and mental benefits:
- increased energy;
- lowered blood pressure;
- lowered stress hormones;
- (possibly) a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s;
- general improvement of mood;
- increased energy and desire to be more physically active;
- potentially reduced risk of cardiovascular problems and arthritis, and
- mental stimulation.
Some great ways to stay social in later life
For seniors who are still physically mobile, volunteering is a great way to get out and about and mix with other people. Volunteering may be in the form of a community-based project, at a school, helping out with fundraising or an activity helping care for young children or people with disabilities. Those who regularly volunteer report a strong sense of well-being and accomplishment through the help they’ve provided and the interactions that they have with other like-minded people.
Exercise is a wonderful way to socialise. It’s also a great equaliser where everyone realises that they have similar problems or aches and pains. Without regular activity, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling that “everyone else is fitter than me” or “my body aches; getting old is terrible”. Exercise helps elderly people with their health and keeps them mobile and active at home and out and about. There are a broad range of exercise programs aimed at seniors, offering anything from tai chi, stretch and tone, walking groups and dance to gentle yoga.
Book club is a wonderful way to get together with a small group of people and have a chat. You share a common interest and can enjoy interacting with people that you can relate to on a shared topic.
Family visits for seniors are extremely gratifying given the strong sense of connection with your own bloodline. By visiting their elderly relatives regularly, family members are helping to keep memories alive, encouraging the family connection, and giving everyone something to look forward to. These visits are even better when they involve grandchildren – children are natural entertainers, and help keep the mood delightfully positive and fun.
It doesn’t matter what you’re into – or what you’re not yet into, joining a group or club can be a fantastic way to meet new people, learn something new or share your skills as an older person. The opportunities are endless but local community centres or councils may facilitate craft activities, card players clubs, theatre groups and talks on relevant topics such as technology or health, to name but a few.
One option to ensuring social interaction for an isolated senior is to hire an aged care worker. Organising for a carer to visit perhaps just two or three times a week will not only assist with chores and ensure the individual is taking care of themselves, but will also provide regular companionship and conversation that the elderly person will deeply cherish.
Sage Institute of Aged Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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