Being Social

By Chelle Cordero

October 8, 2012 5 min read

Growing old means having experience and wisdom, probably the opportunity to retire and for some the joys of children and grandchildren. Growing old can also mean disillusionment when expectations fail, long time friends and partners pass on, jobs and daily routines take a sudden change, physical limitations become a virtual prison, and offspring are too busy to reach.

Many seniors experience pangs of loneliness even when they aren't physically alone. According to a recent AARP article, "the number of Americans without any close confidants has risen dramatically in the past 20 years," and "even though Americans are closer to their spouses than ever before, that kind of intimacy can work against us if we allow ourselves to 'cocoon' within the relationship." Avoid allowing the stereotypes of old age to limit you and your partner, and be willing to accept help from other family members or community organizations if you've become the primary caregiver for an infirmed spouse. Also, don't let feelings of depression over loss of people or lifestyle become contagious.

Loneliness, one of the common afflictions of "old age," can be avoided when the senior citizen is surrounded by activities and involved with people. Taking opportunities to stay mentally and physically busy and maintaining a feeling of self-worth and connection also help. Recent studies published in the Annals of Family Medicine and The American Journal of Public Health state that seniors who have active social skills tend to have fewer memory loss problems and better overall health.

Make the time to stay in touch with old friends and relatives even if they are long-distance. Many telephone plans allow for economical long-distance calling. Speak to your provider to find a package that fits your budget and needs. Using the Internet and social media sites can also help you maintain relationships; some sites, such as GrowingBolder.com, specialize in the over-50 crowd and will also provide access to local resources and problem solving. Some high-tech features, such as Skype, will allow the advantage of face-to-face communication using the Internet. Shut-ins and seniors without easy transportation find computers to be a big asset towards communication with other like-minded individuals.

Depending on your skills, you can probably find mentoring situations. Use your years of work know-how, knowledge of languages and even life experiences to mentor those younger than you or teach new immigrants. You can also put those skills to work by volunteering at many local civic organizations. It's never too late to learn new skills for yourself either; check with your local community college or high school for available adult education courses, and pursue an interest no matter how impractical it might have seemed decades earlier.

There are plenty of fun activities to keep you busy. If you are physically able, join a gym or bowling league, play golf, go hiking, or play any other sport that interests you. Many active seniors find square dancing to be fun. Less physically active pursuits can include book clubs, knitting circles, bridge games and more. Find out whether your town has any active senior citizen clubs; churches and libraries may also sponsor some of these groups. Travel may be a viable option at this time of your life; several senior groups offer group travel options. No matter what your town or local groups offer, you can create your own special interest group and use resources like Meetup.com to find others who share similar interests.

Don't be afraid to admit when you've outgrown your home. If you are no longer able to drive yourself places and your location doesn't make public transportation easy, it may be time to look into moving. Sometimes, instead of placing senior citizens in a senior residence community, well-meaning relatives keep a senior citizen at home with a busy family whose routine doesn't afford a lot of attention or shared interests. Thorough research can help the senior citizen (and his/her family) find an environment that will allow the senior to maintain an active and productive life, preferably close to the kids, with people whose interests and years of experience would provide friendships and opportunities. Many of these senior communities will often have medical services available to accommodate changing levels of physical needs.

Celebrate growing older by living life to the fullest.

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