Building a Social Network for Seniors
After retirement, the social networks that were built up around work may begin to fade. The work world that a retiree held in common with coworkers and other professionals when he or she was employed is no longer as central to the retiree’s life. The natural networks for developing relationships – school, work and activities related to raising a family – are no longer there. Yet building new relationships and maintaining existing social networks can make a big difference between an enjoyable retirement and a miserable one.
Maintaining current social networks
Not all social networks end at retirement. Fundamental relationships such as those built with family, friends, faith community or neighborhood remain intact and can be the foundation for social networking as one ages.
Family: Whether or not one has lots of family members nearby, maintaining family relationships is important. Even if there are different personalities or lifestyles among family members, it is family who many people turn to first in difficult times or simply for companionship. Perhaps there have been rifts in the family, or relationships that have drifted apart. It is never too late to try to repair damage to family relationships. It is better to take the first step in repairing a difficult relationship sooner rather than later. Seniors have much to share with their family and have a wealth of history to pass on to younger generations of grandchildren, great-nieces and nephews or other extended family members.
Friends: Just as with family, it important to stay connected with friends. If friends have drifted apart due to the demands of work and raising a young family, early retirement is a great time to reconnect. Sometimes relationships from youth or young adulthood that diminished in mid-life because of different lifestyles – perhaps one friend married and had several children and another remained single and travelled extensively – can find that they once again have a lot in common as they retire. By attempting to reconnect, the friend who travelled extensively may find that the children of the friend with significant family obligations have moved to other parts of the country. Now they may be able to travel together, or find they enjoy doing similar activities together where they live. If they had not reached out to one another, they might never have discovered how much they had in common.
Faith communities: Faith communities can help seniors connect with others who share their faith. Whether or not a senior has been involved in the past, a faith community may be a welcoming place to connect with new people. Additionally, many faith communities offer programs and organizations specifically for seniors so involvement can offer significant socialization activities for seniors.
Neighborhood organizations: Whether or not someone has been involved in a homeowner’s association or other community group in the past, retirement is a great time to get involved. Not only do retirees potentially have more time to devote to helping their community, but it can be a great way to connect with people of all ages. It can also provide valuable information about changing neighborhood dynamics that may heavily impact seniors such as changes to taxes, redevelopment in the area that may affect property values, or even give a heads’ up about the new senior community center being built a few blocks away.
Building a New Community
There are many ways and places that retirees can go expand their social network. Seniors will benefit from meeting other seniors with common interests and from making friends of all ages who will be excited to learn from the seniors’ vast knowledge and experience.
Social Service or Other Community Organizations – Retirement can be a time to give back to the community. Retirees have both skills and maturity that many organizations need. Whether it’s volunteering at a food pantry, becoming an usher for a local theater or mentoring a young person, seniors have much to contribute which can benefit the community. At the same time, the seniors can benefit significantly as well, not only by helping them realize that have much of value to contribute, but also in expanding their social network and helping them meet and interact with people of all ages.
Senior Community Centers – Lucky retirees may have a senior community center nearby. These centers usually offer activities, classes, social events and valuable information that is specifically geared to seniors. Interacting with other seniors with these same interests can be immensely valuable to expanding existing social networks.
Exercise Classes – Young people who have occasion to visit the YMCA during the work day may be surprised to see it full of very happy-looking seniors. Attending exercise classes that are geared for or are easily accessible for seniors can provide the dual benefit of maintaining physical and mental health as well as providing an opportunity to meet new people and develop close relationships. Classes geared to active older adults represent a wide range of abilities and offer alternatives for those who may have specific health issues. It is always best to consult a health professional before beginning an exercise program.
Craft or Other Skill-Building Classes – Taking a class that can help develop skills has many benefits. Not only can it help retirees meet people now, it can help them identify meaningful activities that they may enjoy doing for many years, even after the days of going to the community center have passed and they are receiving at home care or have moved to nursing home care. Classes are not limited to crafts and art – there are many different types of classes: computer and technology, gardening, cooking, writing and even foreign language classes might stimulate one’s mind and one’s social life.
Online – A few years ago it may have seemed silly to suggest that seniors develop social networks through social media sites, but times have changed. Today’s retirees have been working in environments where they have been using technology and there is no reason for them to stop after retiring. In fact seniors may find that social media sites like Facebook are great ways for them to stay connected with family and friends who live out of town, keep up with the many activities of grandchildren, and reconnect with former classmates and coworkers they may not have talked to in decades. Even seniors who are under home care can use social media to stay connected from the comfort of their own home. For adventurous seniors, retirement may be a great time to start a blog about their favorite topic and share their expertise and life-long experiences with others. This may expand a senior’s network in ways he or she can probably not even imagine.
Expanding one’s social network can be enriching and positive at any age. Retirement is a great time to expand one’s relationships and build a community that will keep one engaged and alert, heathier and happier for many years to come.
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