Scientific studies have established a crucial link between social connections and seniors. Among the many benefits of social interaction, older adults who have meaningful moments with their loved ones and community are more likely to have a higher quality of life.
Especially for mobility-impaired or disabled individuals, making social connections is key to avoiding an isolated life. Read on for more benefits of social interaction for older adults, including ideas for fun social activities for seniors.
Why Is Social Interaction Important?
In the United States, it’s estimated that nearly 1 in 3 older people feel lonely. Social isolation is considered a widespread, worldwide concern (especially among the elderly).
Social interactions can often make the difference between feeling like you’re just surviving to feel like you’re thriving in your environment. Spending time alone is perfectly fine, but spending all your time alone may put you at risk for loneliness. Feelings of loneliness can seriously impact health and well-being.
Benefits of Social Interactions
Although it’s impossible to list all the benefits of social interactions, here are a few that highlight what an important role connection can play in an individual’s life.
Improved Physical & Mental Health
Social isolation may simply seem like a mental health struggle. However, research shows that loneliness and social isolation can increase the risk for serious physical problems, such as:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
A lack of social interaction can also affect the mind. Without social connection, the risk for depression, anxiety, dementia, and cognitive decline increases. In other words, social connection is key for good health, both mentally and physically.
It may come as a surprise, but a healthy social life and relationships are actually linked to longevity. In other words, having healthy relationships may actually add years to your life.
One reason this is thought to be is that healthy relationships provide you with a built-in accountability partner. This means that positive relationships with friends and family may help promote healthy habits like regular exercise and well-balanced meals.
More Time Outside
It’s common for social engagements to take you outside your house. Being outside, even for just five minutes a day, provides additional health benefits. For example, feeling the sun on your skin for a few minutes a day may help prevent a vitamin D deficiency.
Beyond the benefits being outside offers to your body, increased time outdoors offers an opportunity to clear your mind. Whether you’re walking the dog, walking with a friend, or trying out a walking meditation, getting outside can provide a rejuvenating break in the day. Especially in warm weather, getting outdoors allows you to run into neighbors, or to make friends with nearby strangers (which could help your social circle grow even more).
Greater Access to Transportation
For those with limited mobility, a bigger social circle provides greater access to transportation. Although most caregiving naturally falls upon immediate family members, encouraging connection among extended family and supportive friends can help expose seniors to environments they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
Usually, with some simple tips and training, friends and family can help wheelchair-bound or mobility-impaired seniors get around during outings and other get-togethers. Investing a bit of time in learning how to involve better your senior friends who struggle to transport themselves places can show them what a vital part of your life they are and how valued they are as part of your social event.
Special Bond with Family and Friends
Although connections with family and friends are already established, spending meaningful time together can strengthen that bond and keep your social skills up to snuff. In a world saturated with distractions, it’s easy to feel distanced, even from people who live close by. Scheduling one-on-one outings with loved ones you already know or who share your interests is a great way to strengthen existing social connections.
Promotes Tech-Savvy Skills
Connection doesn’t have to be face-to-face to be meaningful. In fact, developing online social skills has the added benefit of encouraging tech-savvy as well.
Social networking and exploring communication technologies can widen your social circles while also providing a much-needed connection for personal struggles. For example, many widows use support groups to connect with women their age going through the same unique changes and stages of life.
Social Activities for Seniors
Convinced of the benefits of connection, but aren’t sure where to go next? Try these ideas on for size! Better yet, invite a friend to join you as you try something new socially.
Searching for a social activity for older adults that will also keep you fit? Group exercise classes are great, not only for staying in shape but also for keeping connected.
Whether you’re meeting up with the same people each week or bonding with a new set of strangers, exercise classes are the perfect way to keep active while also working toward a common goal.
Looking for a meeting of the minds? Book clubs are a great place to get started if you’re an avid reader.
Often, making small talk can seem boring or scary for some people. With a piece of literature as the main focus, you can keep the conversation flowing without sharing too many personal details (unless you want to). Plus, book clubs can bring together readers of all ages who share a common interest.
Travel Somewhere New or Learn Something New
When you’re trying something new, no one is left out! Since everyone is a beginner or starting from a similar learning level, visiting somewhere new or trying something new is the perfect opportunity to meet new people. If you’re feeling adventurous, traveling with a group or taking a class is a great way to introduce a new skill, idea, and group of people into your life.
Seniors living in elderly care facilities can stay connected to their community by participating in local events. Often, a nursing home or senior center can provide transportation to community events, which can be an exciting way to interact with the community. Special events are also an opportunity to invite friends and family to join.
As mentioned above, online interactions can count as social time, too! Social networks, as their name suggests, can connect you with friends from your past and even introduce you to people you might like to get to know in the future! From support groups to updates from friends, social media can keep you from feeling isolated (even if you’re dealing with an impairment, illness, or injury).
Routine Chores, Tasks, or To-Do’s
It might sound silly, but routine chores and tasks provide the perfect opportunity to introduce some regular connection into your life. Chores like laundry are often much more enjoyable if you can call and talk to a friend while completing the task. Activities like gardening are especially beneficial since you can chat with a friend while also getting outdoors (and participating in some physical activity).
Since many chores and tasks are routine, making them more social means connection will become a more natural part of your day or week. From meeting up for morning walks or scheduling a weekly bible study with your congregation, involving friends in your routine activities can turn them from checklist items into something to celebrate.
In Summary on Social Connections and Seniors
Social connections are crucial to thriving as an older adult. Beyond avoiding loneliness, social connection is key to achieving better health outcomes. Nearly any activity, new or something you already do, can become a social event when you invite a family member or friend along.
National Institute on Aging. Loneliness and Social Isolation — Tips for Staying Connected. Nia.nih.gov. Published January 2021.
National Institute on Aging. Participating in Activities You Enjoy As You Age. Nia.nih.gov. Published March 2022.
World Health Organization. Reducing social isolation and loneliness among older people. Who.int. Accessed April 2023.