At a recent focus group with older adults, they said that the #1 concern for them about their quality of life was a loss of feeling connected to their family, friends and community. Many people living in the Denver area, moved here when they were working and are now “graying in place.” Because our society is more mobile, older adults find themselves living in communities without their brothers, sisters, or children.
The Denver Regional Council of Governments also identified this concept of connection in the Strengths and Needs Assessment of Older Adults in the Denver Metro Area in 2004. They reported that about 1 in 5 older adults reported major or minor problems feeling lonely, sad, or isolated, performing everyday activities or having too few activities. Although many people in this survey reported receiving practical support (lawn mowing, rides to appointments) and social support (dinner together, phone calls) from family, many seniors look to other kinds support to feel connected.
Generally, feeling connected contributes to the overall thoughts one has about their quality of life. More connection = higher quality. The trend for older adults since 1999 has been to report less support from their friends, churches, spiritual groups, clubs or social groups.
So, here are some ideas on how you might become more connected.
VOLUNTEER – Take the skills and abilities you have learned over your lifetime and put them to work for your community. Call you local RSVP (Retired & Senior Volunteer Program) coordinator for a list of possibilities for you. Along with this position, may come added benefits like making new friends and volunteer recognition for your efforts.
JOIN A FOCUS GROUP – Many agencies that work with older adults are looking for you to tell them what you think of their services and how to meet the needs of the senior community better.
HELP A NEIGHBOR – Exchange services that you can do for something that a neighbor can do for you. Water and care for their indoor plants in exchange for snow removal from your walks. You may be surprised how you could get to know someone and built a bond through these kinds of exchanges.
GIVE BACK TO A LOCAL NON-PROFIT – Is there a local non-profit that you or someone you know has benefited from? Learn what else they offer and how you could spread the word about the good their organization does. If it is difficult for you to get out, see what kind of phone work is available.
GET INVOLVED IN A FAITH COMMUNITY – About 25% of seniors say they receive a lot of social support through connecting with a church or spiritual group.
CHECK OUT THE SENIOR CENTER – There are activities for all ages of seniors including the newly retired. I spoke to a gentleman who recently made his first trip to a senior center and just did not know how much he had been missing.
PARTICIPATE IN THE COMMUNITY – Participate or lead in civic activities and social change agendas.
GET A JOB – Meaningful employment at any age is a good outlet for socializing and connecting.
LEARN MORE – Take a class at the local community college or free university. There are also programs that help seniors get the training they need to enhance or learn new skills.
GO TO THE RECREATION CENTER – See what they have to offer. If you do not like to sweat, there are plenty of other activities and outings you can get involved in.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a start for things you can consider to get more connected with your community.
A quote from the Boulder County Aging Services Division sums up this column well when they say, “In a vibrant, elder-friendly community people say ‘yes’ to life.”