This is part three of a four part series on socialization for older adults and attracting baby boomers to senior centers.
In today’s world full of digital platforms that make it easy to keep up with friends, apps specially designed to find new ones, and video calling features that allow us to feel part of almost any moment, it may come as a surprise that research reports we are lonelier than we have ever been. Some findings show that superficial relationships could play a part, while other information points to the rise in screen time, but what might be equally troubling is who is being affected the most; with one of the highest reported age groups being Baby Boomers.
Why are they so lonely? Unfortunately, there are many reasons, the first being that with each passing year, they are battling with the loss of close family members and friends. In fact, according to U.S. Census Data, approximately one in 11 people ages 50 and up do not have a spouse, partner or living child. And this number is only expected to increase as they grow older, because unlike their parents, Baby Boomers typically had fewer children, and their marriages ended in divorce at a far greater rate than earlier generations.
Health also plays a major role. As time passes, common age-related conditions are taking its toll, so things like immobility are resulting in seniors who can’t drive or simply get around in close proximities, while those suffering from hearing loss are much less likely to take part in social interactions or activities they once loved.
Another contributing factor is retirement. Work can be the easiest and most common way to bond and meet new people, but also provides a sense of purpose that is now missing. Also, for those relocating after retirement, the barriers are even more significant as seniors are forced to navigate a new town on top of making new friends.
All of these socialization challenges aside though, change is coming – and it’s starting with senior centers just like yours that are implementing new programs and reinvigorating old ones, along with a daily focus on their overall well-being.
Below is a quick look at what’s working and what you can start in your own community.
Although loneliness is quickly becoming a widespread issue in this age group, fewer seniors are coming forward to talk about it. Which is why creating a screening program can be a more proactive approach to combatting added isolation. From scheduled phone meetings and home visits to informal get-togethers, some centers and clinics are implementing various social hubs that are helping to facilitate the relationships seniors need to get the help they may not know they’re looking for.
Development of Networks & Partnerships
More senior centers are seeking out like-minded organizations to come together in hosting events, and even creating long-term programs through partnerships, to amplify their reach. And it’s paying off. Now, seniors everywhere are getting better access to the outlets they need to find a better sense of community while centers are getting the support they require. From local hospitals to educational networks, these opportunities might be closer than you think.
Connection Through Groups
Membership-based groups are on the rise and seniors are one of the most exciting newly tapped markets. With activities like language classes, day trips to local museums and even dance instruction at a nearby studio, developing a social group program exclusively for local seniors gives them a sense of belonging, while potentially giving you a new loyalty-based business strategy.
While activities are a mainstay at senior centers, the quality of engagement is becoming increasingly important as seniors are finding more and more reasons to isolate themselves. So whether it’s a sporting event at a major stadium or a book club hosted at a local library, finding new opportunities for outings are a great way to add variety to your programming. And for seniors looking for a little more purpose, volunteer events and lifelong learning classes and workshops can help to provide meaning to everyday life.
Combating loneliness doesn’t happen overnight, in fact, it takes much perseverance. But with knowledge, comes treatment. So as we become more aware of the painful effects associated with loneliness, it is more important than ever that we also come together to help seniors get the socialization they need, just not to enrich their lives, but add years to them.