When I worked at a nursing home, one of the most important departments in our facility was Recreation. There, tireless employees worked constantly to keep patients entertained, engaged, and socialized. But the Recreation Department was about more than just providing enjoyable pastimes. Fostering companionship is a key part of growing older, whether you’re living in a facility or in your own home. Unfortunately, it is also one of the more challenging parts of aging. However, that doesn’t make it impossible – it just takes a bit more effort and creativity!
Why seniors still need companionship
You may wonder why seniors still need companionship at their advanced age. “They don’t need to go around partying like young kids,” you may think. Or perhaps you’re under the impression that “Hey – some people like to be alone!” Both of these things may be true to some extent. However, studies show that one of the key indicators of happiness is the quality of our relationships – no matter our age. Therefore, seniors need to maintain good relationships in order to be content just like everyone else. This holds true whether they were party animals when they were younger or preferred to associate with only a few close friends.
Sympathize with your senior
It’s no secret that making new friends can be difficult for seniors. As we grow older, we may lose the lifelong friendships we once had, either to death, illness or loved ones moving away. Likewise, children leave the nest and start their own families – sometimes in other states or countries.
Sympathize with your senior about how seeking companionship can be a struggle. Although some seniors say they’re “too old to make new friends,” try to convince them that nothing could be further from the truth. They’re still the same essential person they were decades ago, and there are a whole host of people who’d love to get to know them if only given the chance.
Senior seeks companion: ways to make it easy
It’s important to do what you can to help your senior maintain old ties. It can be as easy as calling them on the phone, or having them call you. You can even set up regular times to do this so they – and you – have something to look forward to. If your senior is computer savvy, or willing to learn, e-mail and social media are great ways to keep in touch with grandkids. Or old-fashioned letters might be the way to go. Everyone likes receiving mail that isn’t junk or a bill! If nothing else, they may be open to the idea of hiring a home health aide during the day.
Likewise, fostering new ties is equally as important. Many seniors are reluctant to take up unfamiliar hobbies or learn different skills, both of which are excellent ways to meet people. One way to get around this is by building on activities they used to enjoy. If they’re interested in music, for instance, mention a new choral group that’s starting in their neighborhood, or in their nursing home. If they liked playing cards, see if there’s a poker group they can join – or one you can get started. If their friends or people they know are getting involved in new things, it doesn’t hurt to mention it. No one likes to be the “odd man out,” no matter how old they are!
Encourage your senior to seek companionship
Encouraging your senior to seek companionship doesn’t have to be a struggle. If they are in a long-term care facility, help them select recreational activities they might enjoy. If they live in their own home and can attend outside activities, offer to pick them up or drive them back or both. By keeping the focus on the event rather than the people, they are likely to forget they’re seeking companionship at all. New friendships can then form naturally, leading to a happier, more fulfilling life — for them and their new companions.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.