Social Engagement and Seniors
Social engagement is essential to mental health and plays a significant role is keeping the brain sharp. Loneliness and social isolation are the enemies of a healthy brain. In these days of frantic social networking it is easy to forget that on-line activity is not the same as seeing real people on a daily basis and interacting with them. In today’s hectic society where people often live far from their families, the extended family has broken down and single person households are on the increase, it is quite easy for someone who works from home or is retired to go for days without seeing anyone or speaking to a real human being.
Retired seniors in particular may find themselves in danger of going for weeks without any real social interaction, particularly if they no longer drive or are living far from family, friends and neighbours. This situation is often coupled with poor nutrition due to poor appetite, limited shopping and little incentive to cook proper meals if alone. This is not a recipe for happiness, good health and mental stimulation, whichever way you look at it.
The Shrinking Social Circle
As we grow old, so do our friends of our own generation. Health problems, mobility issues, night-driving limitations and so on creep in and so the social circle shrinks and isolation increases. People in this situation may find themselves increasingly thinking about the past rather than the present and future, which can, over time cause or aggravate confusion as they lose their grounding in space and time. When every day seems the same, why bother to keep track of the days of the week, the months of the year? If there is no one to cook for, why bother with anything more than tea and snack food? If there is no one to talk to, why worry about keeping up with world events?
Early retirement may be eagerly anticipated after a lifetime of hard work but it can actually have a negative impact on long term health prospects if there are no other activities lined up to fill the time and stimulate the mind and body.
Preventing Social Isolation
How do you prevent yourself or a loved one from falling into this depressing trap?
First of all, find reasons for social interaction. Maintain friendships and family relationships, even if this is at a distance. Skype video calls can be a boon in these situations. Set regular dates to meet up, either physically or virtually, so that you have something to look forward to and someone to talk to.
Make friends with the neighbours if you live in a community or apartment block and invite each other round for meals, coffee, cakes – whatever is appropriate – on a regular basis. Share the cost of a taxi to go shopping together if transport is an issue for proper grocery shopping..
Take up a new hobby or rediscover an old interest. For instance, if the last time you picked up a paint brush was in art class in high school, you might like to join a local art group. Photography is a good hobby to get one out of the house and these days, thanks to digital cameras, there isn’t the expense of developing film so no one needs to worry about their mistakes.
Book clubs are a good way of stimulating your brain – they encourage you to read with concentration and discuss what you have read with other people, exploring new ideas and opinions. Library membership has similar benefits and libraries also often advertise various group activities which can be explored. If you have a singing voice, how about joining a choir? Singing lifts the spirits – and improves breathing! – as well as building new neural pathways as you learn new songs. It doesn’t have to be the philharmonic choir – your church choir can be just as satisfying, if not more so.
Quiz nights, bridge groups, bingo, chess – all of these things combine the stimulation of learning new things, exercising mental skills and meeting with people.
Broadening the Social Circle
By joining groups and voluntary organisations you broaden your circle of friends instead of narrowing it and make friends with people in a wider age group, younger as well as contemporary and older.
The important thing is to remain mentally and socially active so that you have something to look forward to rather than constantly looking back.