We all yearn to belong.
Whether it’s family ties or the camaraderie of friends, the desire to be part of something greater than ourselves is a fundamental human longing.
And the need for connection doesn’t lessen as we age. If anything, it intensifies, especially as we say goodbye to loved ones.
During the pandemic, most people experienced a profound sense of isolation. Seniors were just as at risk of loneliness as anyone, with over 40% reporting overwhelming loneliness.
According to the University of Michigan, there’s been a drop in cases of loneliness. But the 34% reported still surpasses the recorded instances of loneliness from years before the pandemic.
Fortunately, the power of community can reduce the sense of loneliness in seniors. Today, we’ll explore the transformative potential of connection and its remarkable impact on the aging experience.
Aging’s Silent Epidemic: The Health Consequences of Loneliness
You might think the most detrimental consequence of loneliness is depression. Feelings of loneliness can result in hopelessness, leading to an increased risk of suicide. In fact, according to World Psychiatry, the rate of suicide is highest amongst people aged 70 and older.
The CDC also points to several other health consequences of loneliness in seniors, including an increased risk of:
Premature death from all causes
Dementia (by 50%)
Heart disease (29%)
Heart failure and death (by four times)
Emergency room visits (57%)
Social Connectedness: A Critical Human Need
Fortunately, we can combat the loneliness epidemic with social connectedness.
Having people around to support and interact with is vital to our health. It can keep us happier and more balanced emotionally. It can reduce anxiety knowing we have someone to rely on and help us when necessary.
Building trust and engaging regularly with others is like an investment in our physical, mental, and emotional health.
The Power of Community: The Physical Health Benefits of Belonging
According to the CDC, when people feel connected to a community, they’re more likely to make healthful decisions. These decisions can relate to actions (not driving recklessly, for example) or even food choices.
And because someone is there to help us cope with challenging times, we’re less likely to experience:
It’s also encouraging to know that by connecting with others, we’re actually helping others. We help others avoid the physical and emotional health consequences associated with loneliness. When we feel helpful, we feel useful, happy, and important.
Social Activities Encourage an Active Lifestyle
Engaging with others can have a profoundly positive impact on our physical health. Many social activities available for seniors include some form of physical exercise. For instance, you can:
Go on bike rides or walk through the city
Engage in your favorite (age- and ability-appropriate) sports
Join a community garden
Try fun water activities like jet skiing on Lake Michigan or joining a happy hour kayaking adventure
Go hiking in one of the local parks
The more physically fit you are, the less likely you are to develop:
High blood pressure
Obstructive sleep apnea
Certain types of cancer
Physical activity also boosts your immune system, making you less likely to get colds or flu.
Mind Matters: The Cognitive Benefits of Community for Seniors
Another way you can stay socially active is to volunteer in your community. Volunteering and staying connected to others can majorly impact your cognitive health.
Recent studies in Australia have found that volunteering can:
Reduce psychological distress
Increase quality of life
Improve memory function
Improve executive function
Prevent the onset of dementia
Lifelong Learning Within a Community
Another way to improve your cognitive health and foster a sense of community is by being a lifelong learner. Find adult classes in your area that resonate with you. Classes might include:
Learning a new language
Learning a skill
Learning to draw
Learning to play an instrument
You can even become a full-time student and earn your degree. You might even decide to start a new side business or career. The options are endless!
The Importance of Social Diversity and Inclusion
It’s easy to feel like the best community will consist of people with the same interests and beliefs as ours, or those who are the same age.
Really, though, connecting with people of different races, ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, careers, income brackets, and religious beliefs is beneficial. Interacting with a diverse group can give you new insights about life. It can help deepen your compassion and empathy. And it can help you develop some of the closest relationships you may have never expected to experience.
Community Building: Strategies for Building and Nurturing Community Connections
Where can you go to connect with others?
Try your local senior center. Taking classes at the local college will automatically place you in a situation where you interact with others. Check out local clubs in your area, too. If there’s a sport or activity you enjoy, see if you can join a team in some capacity.
You can also utilize the online space. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of online communities. Just be careful of ones that ask for personal or financial info. You can check online sites like Meetup and find local groups that engage in things you enjoy, such as:
Theatrical walking tours
Memoir book clubs
Beer and book clubs
Autumn walking tours
Additionally, you can utilize technology by connecting with others on Zoom, FaceTime, or Facebook video chat.
Aging Well–The Positive Impact on Community for Seniors
The power of community is a transformative force.
It’s important to remember that our journey through life isn’t solitary, or at least it shouldn’t be.
When we form bonds with others and nurture those connections, we experience a sense of belonging. And when we feel like we’re part of a community, we’ll feel better about ourselves and our golden years.
If you’ve been experiencing loneliness and want to enrich your life with more connection, reach out to a community today. Look for online communities, hire a Chicago caregiver for companion services, and keep in touch with friends and family. The more time you spend with others, the happier and more content you’ll feel.
Ready to embark on a caregiving journey that changes lives? Contact Homewatch CareGivers at 888-404-5191 to learn more about starting a career as a careg