Gerald was an older gentleman, quite content living at home with his son Mark. He had a fairly full calendar of activities that he adhered to, determined to remain active as he aged. One of his regular outings was attending a seniors social group at the local community center. Three times a week he ventured out to the gathering to chat with friends, listen to music, and mingle. The group was popular, drawing upwards of 50 people each time. After these fun nights, Gerald would come home feeling quite tired, more so than usual.
After some weeks, Mark began to notice the connection between his father’s increased fatigue and his frequent social group outings. It was Mark who’d initially suggested the idea, thinking it would be good for his dad—Mark had a friend whose mother attended the same social group, and she always returned home buzzing with energy—but it was different for Gerald.
So Mark tossed out some suggestions for activities his dad could do instead. Gerald shifted his schedule around to make more room for quieter activities, while leaving space to still attend the social group twice monthly. It soon became apparent that the quieter activities—like reading, meeting friends one-on-one, and playing music—left him feeling more refreshed. Gerald’s personality is introverted, and they found that making small shifts in his activities had a pretty big impact on his overall energy level and happiness.
Signs Your Aging Loved One Is an Introvert
Figuring out if your loved one is an introvert is important when helping them find activities that are compatible with their personality type. Introverted people typically gain energy from calm, low-key activities, while large crowds and boisterous environments can cause them to feel drained. Tailoring activities to suit your loved one’s introverted nature gives them a chance to refuel, instead of wearing them out.
To discover whether your loved one is an introvert, ask yourself if the following characteristics ring true for them:
- Do they usually prefer to engage in one-on-one conversations as opposed to big groups?
- Do they often take a lot of time to contemplate a decision before taking action?
- Are they typically happy to spend many hours alone on a quiet task?
- Do they tend to shy away from large crowds?
There’s a reason introverts display these preferences. It turns out that introverts process external stimuli differently than extroverts: they’re more sensitive to dopamine than extroverts, and therefore require less of it to experience happiness. According to experts Liz Fosslien and Mollie West, “extroverts’ brains run on an energy-spending nervous system, whereas introverts’ brains run on an energy-conserving nervous system.” Basically, introverts need less stimuli to get their brain working, so they suffer from overstimulation more easily.
Being an introvert can impact your loved one’s daily life in a variety of ways. Engaging in certain activities can cause fatigue and irritability that wouldn’t surface for extroverts. Yet, your loved one might not want to disappoint family members and friends by declining invitations. As a caregiver, it’s beneficial to know which activities will help your loved one recharge, and which will likely drain them. The point isn’t to avoid large crowds or big social events forever, but simply to be aware of the effects they might have.
Activities That Work Well With Introverts
To ensure your loved one feels the best they can, caregivers might want to keep a list of activities on hand to offer as suggestions when needed. Guiding your loved one toward energizing activities will help them stay engaged.
Reading and listening to audiobooks
Reading is great for introverts, because spending time alone is important for their self-care. This quiet pastime is intellectually and creatively stimulating, and can be done alone or in the company of another. And if your aging loved one has trouble with eyesight, technology now makes it much easier for them to still enjoy their favorite books. With e-readers you can easily adjust the text size to ensure the font is large enough for them to read. Or check out audiobooks, which allow your loved one to experience stories without relying on vision. Making sure your loved one is set up with an e-reader or assistive listening device can help make the experience as comfortable as possible.
Playing cards or doing puzzles
Card games offer mental exercise and emotional relaxation, and are even known to protect against dementia. This familiar, tactile, and low-key activity is something your loved one can play on their own or with another person, while relaxed social games like Bridge are perfect for when more company is wanted. Word puzzles, meanwhile, are just as intellectually engaging—and can also be enjoyed anytime, anywhere.
Participating in small discussion groups
Social events and group settings are still beneficial for introverts—when they’re centered around subjects they have an interest in. As introvert expert Carolyn Gregoire says, “introverts are notoriously small talk-phobic, as they find idle chatter to be a source of anxiety, or at least annoyance. For many quiet types, chitchat can feel disingenuous.” Many local libraries offer discussion groups for older adults, which let your loved one have engaging conversations with other people in a quiet setting. This can be a good way for them to meet new people, become interested in different subjects, and be in a new environment beyond their home on a regular basis.
It’s no secret that many introverts are also quite artistic, since many creative activities are inherently solo endeavors. Whether your aging loved one enjoys drawing, playing an instrument, writing, or dancing, you can help by encouraging their creative process. That might look like asking to see their latest creation, buying supplies to get them started, or finding a local class in their area. You could also pick up a brush yourself, sit down beside your loved one, and get artsy together.
Going to a museum or art gallery
Heading out to a local cultural institution lets you spend time with your loved one in a one-on-one situation, while checking out what your local community has to offer. Your loved one can also enjoy this on their own, or with a friend. Check for senior discounts when purchasing tickets, and museum guides that can assist older adults. When your loved one returns, start a conversation about their experience so they have an opportunity to share and connect.
Walking is known to be extremely beneficial for health and mental wellness, especially as we age. You can accompany your loved one, and use the time to enjoy nature and chat—or, they can head out on their own, or with a few close friends. Spending time outside also has many positive effects. Make this a regular routine that your loved one can look forward to.
Listening to music
Music is known to stimulate the brain and conjure fond memories that might otherwise stay buried. You can help your loved one by making sure they have an easy way to listen to music, whether it’s a new mp3 player or an old record player, and access to songs from their youth and favorite artists.
Joining a cooking class
You can usually find cooking classes in your area that have a cap on the number of students per session, since everyone needs to be able to practice and see what’s going on. This is a lovely way to re-ignite your loved one’s passion for cooking, which may have waned from living alone or from fatigue. Cooking also has multiple therapeutic benefits. This is something the two of you can do together, or that your loved one can do alone.
When considering activities that your loved one might enjoy as an introvert, it’s useful to remember that being an introvert doesn’t mean they only like solitary activities. Introverted seniors crave social connection—they just need it delivered differently than extroverts. Usually a small group of close friends, say between 3 to 5 people, will fulfill your aging loved one’s need for socialization while respecting their needs as an introvert.
Engaging in activities that suit your loved one’s core personality can have a real impact on how they feel on a day-to-day basis. Benefits might include feeling more energized, peaceful, rested, and satisfied with their general quality of life. Caregivers can play a big role in helping facilitate this by observing their loved one and suggesting activities that might better meet their introverted needs if they seem tired. Many of these activities offer valuable opportunities for you and your loved one to spend quality time together and connect more deeply.
Institute on Aging offers a range of resources and services to help you and your family provide the best support for your aging loved one. Contact us today to find out how we can assist you.