One of the unfortunate realities of ageing in Canada is that as you get older you lose touch with your friends. Not only that, but seeing the friends you do have becomes more physically challenging. With age comes reduced mobility, and with reduced mobility comes reduced opportunities to socialize.
It’s also harder, the older you get, to make new friends. Older people who live in senior homes in Ottawa and other retirement residences across the country generally have an easier time making new friends than older people who live elsewhere, but it can still be challenging—especially for seniors who struggle with social anxiety—to form new connections, regardless of where they live.
Having Friends is Healthy for Seniors
Having friends is healthy. In fact, it’s more than healthy—it’s essential to living a good life. And having friends is particularly important for older adults. Seniors with active social lives have:
- Better cognitive health
- Better health-related behaviours (like exercising and not smoking)
- Reduced risk of depression, mortality, and disability
- Increased self-esteem
Not Having Friends is Unhealthy
On the other side of the spectrum, not having a social life is detrimental to the health of seniors, perhaps more detrimental than to any other age group. Loneliness among seniors is linked to:
- Heart disease
- Depression and anxiety
- Cognitive decline
- High blood pressure
- A weakened immune system
Loneliness is especially dangerous for seniors who become lonely due to the death of a spouse, close friend, or family member.
Being Alone vs Being Lonely
It’s important to point out that being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely. They are related, of course, but not synonymous. Simply put, an elderly person who’s lonely is experiencing the subjective feeling of being separated from others, whereas an elderly person who’s alone is experiencing an objective physical separation from others. Loneliness is a subjective feeling whereas being alone is an objective state.
An elderly person who lives alone isn’t necessarily lonely. Conversely, an elderly person who lives among friends and family can feel very lonely indeed. That said, seniors with vibrant social lives are far less likely to feel alone than seniors without. And that means that seniors with vibrant social lives are generally healthier and happier than seniors without.
Social Opportunities for Seniors
Seniors who live in age-in-one place retirement residences can have vibrant social lives. Seniors who live elsewhere can build social lives by joining support groups, volunteering at their local church or community centres, or taking art classes. There are also activities and games seniors can do, such as:
- Team sports (walking soccer is a great sport for seniors with reduced mobility)
- Walking groups
- Gardening at community gardens or gardening classes
- Water aerobics classes
- Group outings (to museums, movies, etc.)
- Happy hours
(Yes, even going out for drinks at happy hours counts as a social activity for seniors!)
When seniors choose a social activity, it helps if they choose what they know they’ll enjoy. If they like writing, for instance, they’ll probably enjoy taking a writing workshop. That said, it’s never a bad idea to try something new.
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