Staying socially connected and feeling engaged with life becomes more important as we grow older, and not just for mental health reasons. Isolation is a serious health risk for older adults. We now know that people who don’t or can’t maintain connections with friends, family and neighborhood will experience greater numbers of chronic and life-limiting health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
The benefits of belonging to a community and spending leisure time productively are too important to ignore.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2010 reveals how spending time enjoying the right leisure activities with friends and loved ones protects cognitive skills and keeps them intact longer.
Exploring new hobbies and pastimes … volunteering time with a charitable cause you believe in … embracing new challenges – all these help keep those neurons firing.
Consider these brain-boosting leisure activities:
- Cards and board games with peers and family members
- Dancing, biking and other physical activities that keep you laughing and moving
- Singing and playing musical instruments, especially as part of a group
- Discussing world news and current events with peers
A healthy brain is also key to maintaining a healthy body. Brain health is now tied to reducing severity and frequency of chronic health conditions, lowering rates of depression and increasing overall lifespan.
Seniors face a number of challenging issues as they try to stay connected to their community, including:
- Lack of transportation
- Health conditions that limit their mobility
- Friends and loved ones at a distance or moving away
- Surviving the mounting losses of friends and family
Each of these can be difficult to overcome for a senior who lives alone.
Living where you’re surrounded by peers feels great at any age. For older adults, it also makes a difference in both the quality and the length of life. Seniors who choose to move to a community benefit from:
- Life Enrichment Programs: Senior living communities offer residents a full calendar of life enrichment activities. Active, independent residents enjoy a rich calendar of on-campus activities and community outings designed to work around any of the residents’ physical or cognitive limitations. For those with mobility challenges, the opportunity to enjoy activities onsite helps them stay connected. Specialty programs for Alzheimer’s residents help promote self-esteem and success for adults coping with memory loss.
- Opportunities for Volunteerism: Most community living offers a wide range of volunteer opportunities for seniors. This might mean helping with book clubs, leading current event discussions, spearheading craft programs, knitting for hospitalized children – in fact, depending on the individual community and the needs of the region, the possibilities are limited only by imagination and initiative.
- Peer-to-Peer Support: Healthy relationships with people who understand age-related changes help build strong interpersonal connections. Having someone nearby who can identify with, empathize with and even laugh at shared struggles helps older adults stay positive.
- Well-balanced Meals: Good nutrition is central to a healthy lifestyle. But seniors are at increased risk for poor nutrition – even malnutrition – for many reasons. Lack of transportation to the grocery store and health conditions that make meal preparation difficult are two. In a community senior living environment, meal time becomes a nourishing and social experience. Older adults enjoy well-balanced meals prepared for them and served in a dining room, where they can interact with friends.
- Planned Fitness Programs: From Chair Yoga to Tai Chi and strength training, fitness is essential to the wellness programs offered in senior living communities. Residents can join both formal and informal groups of their peers to exercise on a regular basis.
We invite you to learn more about community living for older adults by visiting Know Your Senior Living Options. In this educational resource, we share the features, benefits and average cost of each type of senior housing.
For those who are ready to take the next step, use our community locator tool to find a retirement community in your area.