But as we get older, our social circle tends to get smaller and perhaps the opportunities for getting together with others don’t arise so often. Reduced mobility or cognitive impairment might mean your loved one finds it challenging to get out and about, leaving them confined to their home for long periods. All of this can impact the social life they once enjoyed.
This need not happen.
If your elderly loved one has spent a lot of time on their own recently – for example if they are grieving for a partner, or poor health has kept them indoors, or if many of their long-term friends have passed on or moved away – it’s probably unfair, and perhaps unrealistic, to expect them to instantly engage in a social life with new people. The effort involved in going out and finding a new set of friends can feel very daunting. They may be fearful of trying something different that takes them out of their comfort zone, or perhaps of being embarrassed by their mobility or cognitive problems.
Your loved one has to be ready to take a new step in life, and may need a little gentle encouragement to see the benefits they will reap from finding people to meet and talk too meaningfully, and activities they can share with others.
When our loved ones get older, there’s a tendency to focus on what they are no longer able to do. That can easily lead to a dip in confidence, which in turn can make them reluctant to explore social activities. It’s important to remember, though, that there will still be a lot that they can do, whatever their physical or mental state. Focusing on their ability, not their disability, can be the key to creating an active and joyful social life.
A study by Kingston University found that it’s not just a social life that’s important to wellbeing in old age. Resourcefulness is a big factor in maintaining a sense of independence, especially when mobility becomes an issue. Researchers discovered that people will go to extraordinary lengths to stay mobile. One example was a group of bowls players who said they had tried “new knees, arm extensions or binoculars to help combat double vision” so that they could carry on playing their favourite game well into their 90s!
Plenty! You don’t need to look too far to find interest groups, lunch clubs or day centres in your loved one’s local area. You could start your search with the charities that serve older people, such as Age UK and the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS). Their websites have loads of information about potential social activities and get-togethers.
Age UK offers Friendship Groups and Older People’s Forums and your loved one may be lucky enough to have one close to where they live.
The RVS boasts 486 community centres, cafes, lunch clubs, social clubs and social centres in England, Scotland and Wales – so there may well be something close by. The community centres offer a weekly programme of inspiring activities including cultural heritage, lifelong learning, healthy living and social events. Their lunch clubs meet monthly for a hot, nutritious meal and a good old natter. They may also offer simple cookery lessons for those who aren’t used to home cooking – often men who have lost their wives.
Churches and other religious centres usually run secular social get-togethers for their older community members, such as lunch clubs and ‘Knit and Natter’ groups. Local parish magazines are a surprisingly good source of information about these, and other, types of community events. The magazines are often available to read in doctors’ and dentists’ surgeries.
Perhaps the best source of local information though, is the local council or Local Authority. They generally produce informative literature (such as a regular magazine delivered to homes in their area) which lists forthcoming events and signposts activities that are suitable for older people.
University of the Third Age (usually shortened to U3A) is a nationwide organisation of local groups who run special-interest activities. No academic qualifications are required – just a spirit of discovery and a love of learning! And there is absolutely no age limit. Members just have to be retired or semi-retired.
It costs a nominal amount to join each year, and a fee may be payable for some of the activities. The types of interests catered for are very broad – for example, art and crafts, tai chi, rambling, wildlife, wine appreciation, music and singing, creative writing, philosophy, politics, theatre trips, and many more.
Of course it’s not always that easy for an older person with mobility or cognitive issues to get themselves out of the house and to a social activity, and you may not always be available to transport them. Fortunately, there are local voluntary groups, such as Dial-a-Ride, who support older people to get out and about. They give their time to taking people to their favourite activities, regular events, medical appointments, and so on. Just search online for ‘community transport groups’ in your loved one’s area to find a local service.
If your loved one is lonely because their social life has dwindled, talk to them about what they would like to do and offer a few suggestions of things you think they might enjoy. Remember that they may be reluctant at first, perhaps because it all seems like too much effort, or they feel shy or uncomfortable about it in some way. It’s important not to force them into anything they really don’t want to do, but encourage them to try something at least once or twice. You can help further by making arrangements for transport. Hopefully, once they have found something that suits them and start making friends, there will be no holding them back!
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For the last five years, Royal Voluntary Service has run a daily group at its Community Centre in Hanley, Stoke on Trent. For many attendees, it’s the only time they leave the house each week.
Royal Voluntary Service wants to help create a society where everyone feels valued and involved whatever their age or ability. They are one of the largest voluntary service charities in Britain with over 25,000 volunteers helping 100,000 older people each month to stay active, independent and involved in their communities.