According to the National Institute on Aging, nearly 13.8 million Americans 65 and older live alone. That’s 30% of the country’s senior population. On one hand, it’s terrific that they can be independent. Yet, living alone makes it harder for them to get out, maintain friendships and socialize with their family, friends, and peers. Whether it’s because of COVID risks, physical limitations, trouble driving, or other reasons, it can be easy for elder loved ones to become secluded.
Socialization, however, is important for all of us. We all can experience loneliness and feel cut-off from the world. Yet, the problems associated with isolation go well beyond loneliness. According to the American Public Health Association, meeting and talking with friends has been shown to improve seniors’ general health, cognition, memory and likelihood of staying active. Seniors with limited social lives have a higher chance of suffering from:
· Coronary artery
· Cardiac issues
· Alzheimers and other forms of dementia
How Caregivers Can Help Keep Seniors Social
It can be frustrating to watch elderly loved ones getting less and less active and more sedentary. Caregivers often have busy lives and can’t constantly provide a social outlet for elder adults. Luckily, AgeWell Atlanta has several resources and opportunities for seniors to socialize with friends and meet new people.
AgeWell Atlanta Neighborhoods and the Active Mature Adult Program at the JCC work together to put on unique social events and programs for older members of the community. There are a whole range of activities that include international Zoom programs, local discussion groups and classes that touch on several interests. We talked with the professionals that run these programs for their top suggestions to get seniors learning, talking, or just having fun.
A longstanding part of the AgeWell Atlanta calendar, many Atlanta Seniors have looked forward to Senior Days (as it was known in the past) and now Senior Week. It’s when AgeWell Atlanta has put on many events for seniors to enjoy. Past events have included classes, lectures, physical fitness and more. This January’s Senior week includes a virtual visit to New York City’s famous Tenement Museum, the Jewish Museum of New York and a virtual tour through Krakow, Poland. “We coordinate everything with the JCC,” says Ashley Maloy..” We’re able to work together so our seniors can have a shared experience, then talk with their friends about it afterwards.”
On a smaller scale, AgeWell Atlanta’s Neighbors program also has a small group that meets every month. It’s been an ongoing program since before the pandemic but now takes on new meaning. A social worker leads the group on Zoom. “It’s a little bit of therapy. It’s also a chance to get together,” says Ashley. “It’s a group of 8 to 10 people that really can talk with each other and express their feelings.”
“We also have a number of discussion groups that are very popular,” says Lizabeth Connors. “Even while living in this virtual world, it’s great to see all the connections the seniors make. People are really caring. They get on saying, ‘How are you? We missed you last week. How are the kids?’” Topics vary per group and are set ahead of time, but each group has set time for kvelling and then time for kvetching. In those times the participants can share something their excited about and something that they are trying to overcome. Some notable groups include a Men’s Forum, The Talking Heads, Yiddish Finkle (Yiddish Corner), and more. “Participants can be from within Dunwoody or as far away as Israel. We have three people from Canada.” Explains Lizabeth. “They’re brought together by a shared experience.”
The JCC has always had an incredible book festival. Over the past two years, the festival has not only gone virtual but joined with other JCCs to be able to bring great authors like Jodi Picoult, Wayne Federman, Annabelle Gurwitch, Matthew McConaughey and Rachel Ray. In addition to the speaker series, AgeWell Atlanta also offers Book Clubs where members can get together over Zoom and talk about what they’ve read as well as get to know new members of the community.
In February, Active Mature Adult Program at the JCC will hold a special program where each person can tell their story and what made that person who they are today. “People are given different prompts [questions] like ‘What is something you have done that you didn’t think you could do’,” explains Lizabeth. “It’s a different way for older adults to share their story, share their experiences and connect. It’s a wonderful workshop.”
COVID has been a challenge for seniors, but at the same time, it has provided more chances for them to reach out through Zoom or other online resources. “People have even told me that they want these programs as an option even after COVID,” says Ashley. “People like that, if they have a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon, and can’t make it to the JCC, they can still sign on and participate. Plus, my seniors in Toco Hills would normally only see friends in Dunwoody during Senior Days, but now they can do things with them online.”
Online community events also make it easier for caregivers to encourage socialization. Over the last few years, more and more seniors have gained the skills to use Zoom or other video chat tools. That makes it easier for caregivers to convince someone to try something new. A family member might even try joining in with them the first time.
Families that need help talking with their older loved ones or dealing with someone who feels alone and isolated can also contact AgeWell Atlanta’s Counselors. Depression can be a big problem in older adults. AgeWell Atlanta has resources that can help people cope with being quarantined or who are afraid to step out of their safety zone. No matter what level of help you need, AgeWell Atlanta is here for you.