May is Older Americans Month. And for 2021, the Administration for Community Living has chosen “Communities of Strength” as the theme.
If you’re a senior with a strong community around you, then you may feel right at home with this theme. Not everyone is so lucky, though.
Among Americans ages 65 and up, around a quarter experience social isolation.
While community living goes hand in hand with strength, it’s just the opposite for isolation. Lonely seniors are more likely to feel anxious and depressed. Your risk of dementia increases by 50%, and the chance of having a heart attack or stroke goes up by about 30%. Isolated seniors also often die earlier than their peers.
Loneliness doesn’t have to define your later years.
It’s not too late to build a strong community around you. Learning where to make connections is the first place to start. The more friends you add to your life, the more robust your community — and your health — could be.
Practice with online interactions.
After doing life on your own for a long time, you may feel rusty with social interactions. If you can navigate the internet, you can give friendship a try from the comfort of your own couch.
AARP offers discussion boards where seniors can chat about a wide variety of topics. The organization also hosts a Virtual Community Center. You can sign up for online programs like exercise classes and movie screenings.
Participating in these kinds of online programs could be a great way to stretch your social muscles before giving real-world interactions a try.
Plus, online friendships can be real friendships. You may form long-term connections with likeminded people from around the country. Once you start developing local relationships, you don’t have to drop your online buddies. A wider circle of friends is never a bad thing.
Scope out senior activities.
Gone are the days of dull senior entertainment. These days, senior centers and community agencies offer full lineups of activities that older adults actually want to do.
At many senior organizations, there’s something new every day of the week.
If you’re into games, you can join a card tournament. Prefer cooking? Sign up for a weekly baking program. For those who like entertainment, check the schedule for concerts and movie nights. Other options may include spa days, book clubs and even video game sessions.
In some communities, activities like these are easy to find. Just head to the local senior center.
Not every town has this option, though. Instead, check your local parks and rec department, the YMCA or houses of worship to see what they offer for retirees.
Also, some retirement homes open their doors to non-residents during the day. You can sign up for morning and afternoon activities and then return home to your own bed at night.
Find a cause to support.
Isolation can leave you down in the dumps. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself when you’re short on community. To push past that mentality, challenge yourself to do something nice for someone else.
Volunteering for a good cause can give you a sense of purpose. And making a difference for others can build up your self-confidence while potentially offering health benefits, too.
Plus, volunteerism is a great way to connect with other people. As you work together with other like-minded folks, friendships may develop.
For the most satisfying volunteer opportunities, look for tasks that align with your interests. Pet lovers may enjoy caring for shelter animals. Retired teachers may do well as youth tutors. Those with cooking skills could help assemble meal packs for veterans or low-income families.
Need more ideas? Check out VolunteerMatch. This website connects willing volunteers with local service opportunities. You can sort the listings by location or theme to find the ones that are right for you.
Keep your brain sharp.
What have you always wanted to learn? Thanks to an abundance of in-person and online learning options for adults, now’s your chance to explore something you’ve always wanted to study.
Many senior centers offer a wide array of courses on topics like exercise, art and cooking. Participation can be a social affair as well as an educational one.
Of course, your friendships don’t have to be based on age.
Consider expanding your social circle by signing up for a course at your local college. Joining a classroom of university sophomores would certainly introduce you to a whole new crowd. And the benefit goes both ways.
For a more middle-of-the-road option, many community colleges offer continuing education programs that are open to adults of all ages. Your new friends might range from young adults to other seniors like you.
If you’re looking for education options but aren’t sure where to start, check out our roundup of free and low-cost resources for adults.
Rearrange your living situation.
You might automatically balk at the idea of community living. And that might be because for many people, nursing homes are the first — and only — senior housing arrangements that come to mind.
But senior living facilities have come a long way these days. Moving to a retirement community could actually be empowering. You wouldn’t have to fret about home upkeep or what you’d do in an emergency. Instead, you could focus your attention on enjoying your retirement years and getting to know the others who live in your complex.
Many independent living facilities provide a full lineup of entertainment and activities for residents. There might be opportunities to enjoy an old hobby or take up a new one. You might even discover that your calendar is fuller than it has been for a long time.
That said, moving to a retirement community isn’t the only option for a more social living arrangement. If you’d rather stay in your own home, you could think about getting a roommate.
When you live on your own, days may go by before you talk to another human. Having a housemate means that you’re more likely to engage in daily conversation. Perhaps a strong friendship will grow from it. But even if not, becoming more social at home could encourage you to get out in the world more often.
You don’t have to take in strangers, either. Talk to your current friends to see if they might be interested in sharing a space as you all get older.
The point here is to think a little outside the box when it comes to your living arrangements. Besides, having a roommate offers financial benefits, too. By splitting the household bills with someone, you could trim your monthly living expenses.
Explore the world.
Want to expand your community? Then redefine what “community” really means. If your health allows, travel can be a great way to boost your sense of belonging as you get older.
Start small if you’re not used to traveling or you’re not so sure about the prospect.
Some senior centers arrange day trips for their members. You can hop on a bus with others from your local area to explore nearby shopping districts, museums, festivals or historical sites. There might even be overnight outings that you can try.
When you’re ready to spread your wings, think about joining a tour group.
Organizations like Road Scholar cater to domestic and international tours for adults. When you leave the planning to someone else, you’ll be free to explore and make new friends.
If health or other circumstances are holding you back from in-person travel, try a virtual trip instead.
Free online tours took off during the pandemic, and many are still available. Invite a few acquaintances over to enjoy one or more of these experiences together. As you bond over some of the world’s most unique places, you may find that your best community was right here at home all along.