Staying Social as a Senior

One unforeseen side effect of aging is the diminishing of social networks, which means there are fewer people in our lives. With retirement, the social interactions provided by work slowly fade away.

Parents may have passed away, families may have already moved away and friends may move or pass away. This gradual erosion may not be noticeable at first but there may come a day when people realize that they are much more alone than they once were.

It may take a specific event to bring this loss into focus: such as being widowed, going through a serious illness, giving up a driver’s license – or perhaps just a yawning emptiness under the Christmas Tree. Less mobility and health challenges can make it harder to develop new relationships to replace those which are gone.

The ever-accelerating pace of our lives also makes it increasingly difficult to maintain those relationships that remain, especially with family members who are still in the workplace and juggling multiple demands on their time.

But social isolation is not an automatic by-product of the senior years. Nor should be it swept aside as unimportant. Studies show a strong correlation between maintaining social contacts and maintaining good health.

Regular interaction with friends or family encourages a healthier lifestyle with more activities, often including more physical activity. If there is someone else at the dining table, a senior is less likely to adopt the stereotypical tea-and-toast diet of the lonely and isolated.

As we age, it is vital to keep renewing our social networks. Options include joining churches and clubs, becoming involved in hobbies, taking courses or re-connecting with previously estranged family.

Although it is not a human social interaction, another choice is acquiring a pet. Studies show that pet owners also benefit from the social interaction with their animals.

One of the fastest ways to acquire an immediate community is by moving to a seniors’ apartment, community, or retirement residence.

This option often includes nutritional meal services and other support services to help seniors better maintain their health while enjoying life with new friends and new activities.


Move by Choice, not Crisis

Making the move from the familiar family home to a retirement residence can be a difficult choice. As a result, the move is often delayed, robbing seniors of what could be years of carefree comfort.

Retirement residences are a practical and safe choice for many people as they age. Even for seniors who are in relatively good health, there may be some loss of energy and physical limitations that make it difficult to maintain a home.

People usually recognize when it is time to retire from work but find it more difficult to recognize when it is time to retire from the house. Frequently seniors and their families say: “We really like the retirement home but we’re not ready to move yet.”

Staying in the home too long can be as harmful as staying too long in the workplace. For example, after 50 or more years of making meals, many seniors are tired of cooking and resort to the infamous ‘tea-and-toast’ diet, which can harm their health.

Or they give up the car and become essentially housebound, with limited social contact and days spent in front of the TV. Care of the home can deteriorate, resulting in an unhealthy environment.

By contrast, seniors in a Retirement Residence usually enjoy prepared, served meals, which are nutritionally balanced. Meals are also a social occasion, often served in a central dining room, which counters isolation.

Retirement Residences also incorporate on-site activities, which provide mental, physical and social stimulation. All are essential to healthier aging.

Housekeeping is usually part of the package, so the seniors live in a healthier, brighter environment. Plus, there is the extra security of emergency alert systems, so if something does go wrong, there is help at hand.

Despite all the benefits of simplifying life by moving to a Retirement Residence, many seniors delay the move. Perhaps the logistical and physical challenges of moving are too daunting and the emotional impact is too overwhelming!  

All too often in such cases, the move is then made in the midst of a sudden health crisis, when the senior is least able to deal with all the decisions involved in the move.

Waiting too long can mean the senior loses control of his or her life. Others step in to make the essential decisions about the home, the possessions, or the seniors’ future home. Worst of all, the senior’s  health may have deteriorated to the point that the initial ‘crisis’ move is shortly followed by a second ‘crisis’ move to nursing care or hospital.

These are all reasons to make the decision to “retire from the house” before being forced to move by a health crisis. I applaud seniors and their families who make the choice, research the options, and complete a planned move in advance of any crisis.

Choices are made based on research or a trusted referral – not on the first available space in the midst of a crisis. Making such an important move is best done when everyone has the time and ability to be fully involved in the process – to make decisions about the home and possessions and a future lifestyle that makes the most of the coming years.

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