Social isolation may be unhealthy for seniors. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), “Several research studies have shown a strong correlation between social interaction and health and well-being among older adults…” Social isolation “may have significant adverse effects for older adults,” says the NIA.
Many seniors seem to be aware of this link. A survey conducted by the National Council on Aging, in cooperation with United Healthcare, revealed that a majority of seniors consider remaining close to friends and family a greater concern than financial independence.
As we get older, however, circumstances sometimes make it difficult to stay close to old friends or to make new ones. Here are some suggestions to help overcome those factors.
Embrace new technology (or at least some of it). As of last year, based on several market research studies we researched, it is estimated that the number of Facebook users age 55 and older had grown to about 34 million. How many of them could be current friends or former acquaintances who would love to hear from you? It may be worth finding out. What’s more, at least four out of ten seniors now own smartphones, reports the Pew Research Center. Emailing, texting and sending photos and videos by phone are powerful ways to maintain ties and reinvigorate old friendships. Some smartphones even allow the user to communicate with live video.
Speaking of live-picture communication, the application known as Skype allows people to “meet” face-to-face with friends (and family, too, of course) right on their computer monitors or phone screens. Skype is a free service when used for computer-to-computer calls, but entails a charge when calling a land line or mobile phone. It is a little more complicated to set up than a Facebook account or smartphone usage. If this or any other modern communication device feels a little intimidating to take on by yourself, plenty of help is available. You may know a tech-savvy teenager you can call upon, but if not, consider finding a local volunteer organization who can help.
Embrace the old ways, too. Pick up the phone and dial; write a letter; send a post card. Sometimes, staying in touch is more a matter of overcoming inertia than anything else. If you haven’t been in touch with an old friend for a while, take the initiative and reach out. It is best not to stand on ceremony about who called whom last, or about some unimportant tiff that may have marred your last interaction. Move on from it, for your sake and your friend’s.
Become a joiner. Senior centers abound throughout the United States, about 11,000 of them, according to the National Council on Aging. Join one of them, and perhaps, encourage an existing friend to do so, too. In addition, consider joining a club that interests you. Did you have a hobby that you are passionate about that you gave up to focus on your career? If so, your senior years might be a great time to take that passion up again, and an equally great opportunity to meet new people who share that interest.
Become a volunteer. With your professional career behind you, it is likely that you have a wealth of knowledge and experience that could be used to mentor someone. Mentoring can be a highly gratifying activity, as well as a good way to meet others who are mentoring and are potential new friends. Alternatively, you might find it amply satisfying simply volunteering your time and efforts on behalf of a worthy charity or civic enterprise.
Get a part-time job. Again, that knowledge and experience you accumulated have value, and many employers know that. They also know that older adults tend to be highly dependable. Therefore, consider returning to work on a modest scale as a means of meeting new people and, possibly, forming important new relationships.
However you choose to do it, try to make an effort to make new connections and hold on to the ones you already have. It may be a benefit to your health and increase your enjoyment in life.