Human contact and interaction is a critical aspect of human life, regardless of age. The role of family and friends in a senior’s life cannot be understated. As elderly people age and become more dependent on others for what they once could do on their own, they need a family and community more than ever. Family and friends not only provide the obvious physical support, but also emotional and social support. Many older individuals live in isolation because their peers have passed away, but their social needs cannot be disregarded.
Importance of Socialization
When considering the wellbeing of your aging loved ones, it’s easy to focus on their physical ailments or mental decline and overlook the social aspects of their life. At the core of any person lies a need for purpose and belonging. After your loved one has retired and stopped taking care of a family, their sense of purpose can be diminished. They are often left thinking that they aren’t needed, or worse, that they are a burden to others. By providing a sense of belonging, a community can give them social purpose. One great benefit of socialization in advanced years is that it helps increase self-esteem and confidence by making individuals feel heard, validated, and important.
Socialization can also help prolong cognitive function. By being engaged with family, friends, and peers, seniors are working parts of their brain that govern communication, memory, and awareness. The mental-health benefits complement the other benefits a strong family and community can have in an elderly person’s life.
Community, Family, and Senior Health
As people age, health concerns inevitably become increasingly prominent, and maintaining the best possible quality of life should take priority. Aside from medication, doctor appointments, daily hygiene, and healthy eating, strong relationships among family and friends can have a great positive impact on an aging loved one. There is a strong correlation between the health of a senior citizen and the quality of their relationships between family, friends, and community. Those that are more involved in broader family life are more likely to live longer compared to those living a more disconnected life. This is still the case in individuals suffering from various stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia as well.
Another health benefit comes in the form of mental health. Older adults who are close to their family and friends report being less depressed than others in their age group. Since the elderly are especially prone to depression, socializing can be thought of as a therapeutic measure to help prevent or improve upon their mental health. The links between social relationships and health are especially important for seniors because, as they age, both social interactions and heath decrease. Therefore, extra effort needs to be put forth to keep your loved ones engaged.
Changing Roles in a Senior’s Relationships
As your loved ones age, their role in your life and the lives of others in your family begins to change. As a parent or grandparent, they previously had an integral part in taking care of and raising you or other family member. During the aging process, a role reversal begins to take place as various factors come into play that decrease the person’s independence. The roles that can begin to diminish include parent, worker, grandparent, and significant other.
This shifting of roles can come with various challenges. The paradigm shift from caregiver and provider to a receiver of help and assistance can impact the way people view their usefulness and sense of purpose in life. To contend with these changing roles, family and a community of seniors are tasked with helping to comfort and help provide a new sense of purpose so that they still feel useful and needed. A new role can emerge to give seniors a way to feel valued and needed. Family and friends can lean on their elderly loved ones to give them love, understanding, and a family bond. By allowing your aging family member or friend to still be a pillar in your social network, you can give him or her continued purpose during their time of life changes.
New Social Networks and Assisted Living Communities
Along with the changing roles comes the possibility of moving into a new assisted living community and adjusting to a new social network entirely. This new community can become an opportunity to create new connections and relationships within the peer group, as well as among staff members. Some view their new situation negatively at first, because of stigmas. But to the contrary, they usually find it to be a positive change, largely due to newfound friendships. An assisted living community provides daily socialization activities and interactions that family and friends may not have the time to provide. An assisted living community also helps to curb any tendencies to isolate, which some seniors experience. Although a new community and new connections are being developed, this does not replace the connections and love that lifelong friends and family are able to provide—loved ones should be careful not to lose contact.
Residents of senior living facilities can expect to receive assistance in day-to-day activities and to be welcomed into a loving community. Both significantly improve quality of life and happiness but need to be complemented by consistent interactions in the forms of visits, calls, and activities by the family and loved ones. Finding a senior living community that can integrate family visits and activities into its schedule can be a great way to promote the ongoing social wellbeing that you know your loved one needs and deserves.
Activities for Seniors
One great way family and friends can stay connected with their loved ones is by engaging in fun and beneficial activities. Oftentimes, an assisted living community provides a schedule of activities as well as allows for family outings. Some fun activities when visiting an assisted living community can include: listening to music, crafting, reading a newspaper, and going for a walk. Depending on the unique situation, day trips can be a great way to give seniors something to look forward to, but also allows them a break from their normal routine to see and try something new. Activities are a great way to keep the bond between you and your loved one, as well as to support their social and emotional needs that may not always be filled by staff and other residents.
Staying Connected Through Technology
For those that are not able to physically visit with their loved ones because of physical distance, technology can be a great tool to stay connected. More traditionally, phone calls are an easy and convenient way to stay close with seniors. The fear of encountering technical challenges can prevent seniors from opting to using more technological ways of communicating (including Skype, social media, email, and texting). In that case, friends, family, or assisted living staff can break down those barriers and facilitate better communication using modern technology. For example, a family member can bring their laptop on a visit to show their loved one Facebook pictures of other friends and family, and even help comment on photos and posts. When it comes to the importance of the family and community of seniors, using technology to bring people closer together will require some unique solutions, assistance, and problem solving to increase usability.
Although visits with daily caregivers and support staff can provide a certain level of interaction and socialization, staying close to family, friends, and peers through visits, trips, and activities gives seniors that deep feeling of care every human needs. This need spans physical, emotional, mental, and social wellbeing.