By Doug Cormack
With older adults becoming less social and more likely to live alone as they age, it’s no wonder that feelings of loneliness peak between one’s mid-50s and late 80s. As seniors feel less connected, they can develop a sense of social isolation, a condition in which one lacks meaningful relationships or engagement with others.
Social isolation can be detrimental to one’s health and well-being. A number of studies have found that loneliness and isolation may increase the risk of early death, while research from the American Psychological Association suggests that loneliness can be as damaging to one’s health as obesity. Despite a proliferation of online tools that encourage connectivity, researchers believe that isolation is a growing problem for older Americans.
Just as a well-balanced diet and exercise are essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, so too is staying connected as you age.
For those of us in senior care, the many recent studies and attention on this subject come as no surprise. We see every day how people blossom when they become part of a greater community and, as such, advocate for staying active and having a strong social network.
However, we’ve found that things like an individual’s unique personality and the presence of hobbies and other interests can play into how social one is as they age. For example, those who were never terribly social may be less so as they get older.
At Orchard Estate of Woodbury, a Benchmark assisted living and memory care community, we actively get to know our resident’s likes and dislikes, goals and dreams so we can act as social connectors to other residents and associates and develop individualized programming. Often, these “connections” are formed over shared interests or commonalities. Additionally, Orchard Estate offers a number of wellness programs, services and amenities designed to promote a robust, social lifestyle. Residents have access to the fitness center, activities room, walking paths and a variety of programs offered daily. There are also numerous spaces for socialization, such as the bistro and dining room so that residents can continue to interact socially and connect to what matters to them most.
We find that many older people are now interested in returning to work and volunteering purely for the social benefits. As such, many of our programs are centered around going out into the community and giving back. For instance, those who love being around children could enjoy reading to kids at a local library or volunteering at a nursery school, even if it’s just for an hour a day. Something as simple as joining a book club or visiting family can truly enhance longevity and overall happiness. Many towns have senior centers and adult day health programs that offer opportunities for socialization.
With countless opportunities available to form connections, senior living communities like ours are at the forefront of preventing social isolation. A number of studies, including Mather Institute’s Age Well Study, suggests that communities like these can improve quality of life by creating a socially rich environment that encourages participation and family involvement.
Upon move-in at Orchard Estate of Woodbury, our residents are greeted with a full calendar of clubs, trips to various locations with different activities, and volunteering opportunities that allow them to engage with the local community and one another. An illustration of Benchmark’s commitment to engagement was last year’s participation in the American Heart Association’s “Little Hats, Big Hearts” initiative to raise awareness for congenital heart defects. Residents and associates at 58 communities and the company’s headquarters knitted and collected more than 700 red hats for newborns, showing support for affected families. It is with activities such as these, that we hope to engage your loved one.
Associates get to know each resident and encourage participation to ensure they are taking full advantage of Orchard Estate’s daily programs. Family members are always welcome to join in on the fun.
Doug Cormack is the executive director of Orchard Estate of Woodbury. Call 516-284-8405, or visit orchardestatewoodbury.com