No one enjoys feeling lonely, but according to a recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), a quarter of senior adults over 65 are considered socially isolated.
Research has shown that having a healthy social life is critical to both physical and mental health. It can even slow the rate of cognitive decline, and prevent some health problems in seniors.
If you’ve noticed your loved one spends most of his or her time alone or just hasn’t been as social as they once were, read on to learn how to promote healthier social habits.
Why Do Some Seniors Become Less Social?
While many seniors continue to have a full social life and enjoy seeing friends and family regularly, others find themselves increasingly isolated. There are a few reasons why they may have trouble keeping up with their social circle like they once did. These could include:
- Difficulty getting out on their own if they have mobility issues.
- Lack of friends or family living in the area.
- Inability to physically do the things they once enjoyed most.
It might be easy for you to recognize isolation in your loved one, or the signs might be a little more difficult to identify. If you aren’t sure, have a frank discussion with them. Ask direct questions about daily habits, hobbies, friends that they used to regularly see, or how often they get out of the house. This may give you the answers you need to help them make positive changes.
Seniors and Social Media
Social media isn’t just for college students and parents posting baby photos. Around a third of seniors 65 and above report using social networking sites. And studies have shown that interacting with others online has similar benefits to interacting in person - when done right.
For a senior who may have trouble leaving their home or whose family lives far away, social media can be a simple way for them to stay connected. Sharing video calls with relatives, sending messages to friends, and seeing photos from acquaintances’ travels all help seniors strengthen their social ties.
To help a loved one start using social media, it helps to show rather than tell. Pick a time when you’ll be visiting, and if they’re interested, show them how to set up an account. Remember to keep privacy and safety in mind, too.
Benefits of Volunteering for Seniors
Volunteering can promote long-term mental health benefits that go beyond just a good feeling. A study of seniors who spent an average of six hours per week volunteering found that their mental health, feeling of productivity, and overall well-being improved.
Volunteering can also give retirees something to do that they may not have experienced in a while. Having a sense of purpose and a job to do is key to living a fulfilling life.
To get started, help your loved one search for nearby organizations they would like to support through a local volunteer network, such as New York Cares. Religious organizations, alumni groups, cultural sites like museums and libraries, and nonprofits are good places to look, too.
Seniors and Continuing Education
When your loved one has been knitting her whole life or loves to go birdwatching, it’s natural that they may want to continue pursuing just those hobbies. However, you may also want to encourage them to find new hobbies to enjoy as well.
Learning something new at any age can help boost brain health and may even slow the progression of mental decline.
One way to pick up a new skill is to join a club or group that meets regularly. From writing and pottery to dance and music, joining a group will help seniors meet new people and get started with a new hobby they’ll enjoy learning.
Another way is to take a class on something interesting. Colleges and universities often allow non-students to audit classes for free, and there are online options for the tech-savvy as well.