The Importance of Social Connection

My grandmother lived to the wonderful age of 95 and up until the last two weeks of her life when she was hospitalized with pneumonia, she maintained an active daily routine which I believe (and studies show) is the key to a long and fulfilling journey as we age. I did not realize as I grew up that she always had a plan. She filled her days with things that mattered to her, that were good for her, and that kept her active both mentally and physically.

For example, she played cards several times a week, practiced yoga once a week (she could stand on her head in her 90’s), went to the beauty parlor every Friday, read and napped daily, attended a weekly religious service, volunteered, attended community events and spent time with family. She was lucky that her mobility and motor skills made it possible for her to be self-sufficient to accomplish this schedule without assistance, but when she couldn’t drive herself, she immediately phoned one of her family members and arranged a ride.

What my grandmother demonstrated so well, is how important it is to maintain connection to others and to the things that matter to that person as they age. It is a part of a person’s identity and self-worth. It motivates them to wake up each day and know they have something to which they can look forward. This can be challenging as a person loses independence and the ability to come and go without the assistance of another.

You can help your aging family member maintain activity in a variety of ways. Begin by speaking with them about what they enjoy doing both inside and outside their home. For example, in home activities might include reading, writing, cooking, taking a walk and playing games. Depending on their living arrangement, they may have neighbors with whom they could do many of these activities.

If they are mobile or able to arrange transportation, a local recreation center or senior center could provide a wonderful opportunity to spend time with others doing a variety of activities, volunteering, taking fitness classes and other classes on a variety of interests. Some communities have public transportation at a low cost which assists seniors with mobility limitations.

For seniors who are not mobile and don’t have transportation resources, many faith communities and senior centers have volunteers who will come visit at their home. This provides the opportunity for them to practice spiritually and interact with others. Libraries offer a free service to send books, CDs, magazines, and movies to residents who can’t visit them.
Computers can be a great way to stimulate your brain and memory with programs such as luminosity.com and on line board games. For mobile seniors who don’t have computer access at home, local libraries provide computers for use to the community and the opportunity to engage with others while visiting. Libraries also provide volunteer opportunities for seniors to serve others.

In addition to experiencing a grandmother who was self-sufficient, I also experienced a grandmother who did not drive and relied completely on family for transportation and interaction. We helped grandma stay connected by moving her into an apartment complex for seniors so she could be surrounded by others who were available to interact. They had a common area where they would have potlucks, watch TV, play games, celebrate occasions and enjoy each other’s company.

We enrolled her in the Silver Sneakers program by her house so she could exercise and have friends outside of her apartment building. She continued to attend religious services weekly and family members spent time with her every week. She had a grocery store in walking distance if she needed a few items in between her weekly shopping trips. We looked for an opportunity to help her interact and maintain accessibility.

Every senior has their own unique interests and challenges with creating a healthy social life as they age. The wonderful news is that resources are continually expanding and new and innovative opportunities are developing continually to help families provide their senior family members with the best quality of life possible during their senior years.

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