As we age, our ability to maintain social relationships may wane. Friends and loved ones pass away, health issues may isolate us, and physical limitations may make it difficult to go out and meet people. But socializing remains important. Not only does it help us feel connected and alive, but it also provides numerous health benefits. Several studies have shown that socialization protects the immune system. Some researchers say that social isolation is a greater health risk that smoking and obesity! A study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who engaged in a lot of social activity in their 50s and 60s had slower rates of memory decline compared to those who were socially isolated. “People need people,” the song goes, and it’s quite true.
“Being socially connected is our brain’s lifelong passion,” says Matthew Lieberman, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral science at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and author of the book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. “It’s been baked into our operating system for tens of millions of years.”
That’s why it’s important for all seniors to remain socially active. But if you have a loved one who resides in a nursing home or other healthcare facility, keeping them socially active may seem challenging. Of course, it’s good to visit your loved one as much as possible. But next time you’re visiting, take a little time to help your loved one find out what social opportunities are available at the facility. You might be surprised!
One of the advantages of having a loved one being cared for in a skilled nursing facility is that there are always people around, providing numerous opportunities for socialization. Most facilities have an activities calendar, so residents can participate in games, movie nights, special parties, and outings to local museums and events. Meals are most often served in a community dining room, allowing people to spend time with another while they dine.
Here are some other tips to improve your loved one’s socialization opportunities:
- If you see your loved one is not engaging with other residents or seems lonely, talk to the staff. Together, you may be able to come up with a plan to get your loved one involved in more activities and events.
- When you visit, ask your loved one if they’re meeting other people, and ask to be introduced. If you show an interest in meeting their friends, they may be more likely to make an effort.
- Encourage them to join any clubs or participate in events that may be offered – book clubs, women’s or men’s groups, religious services, art classes or intergenerational programs. Follow up and show an interest in what they’re doing.
- Ask the staff it if would be possible for you to bring along your family pet. Socializing with animals provides many of the same benefits of human companionship.
- Finally, if you know people who know your loved one, encourage them to visit. Seeing a new, yet familiar, face can go a long way in making someone’s day.