Research shows the emotional health benefits of having strong social connections are well known, and that staying socially engaged also benefits health in other ways. People who stay socially engaged and connected to their communities:
- Know about and attend community events and services (such as flu shot clinics)
- Are more likely to get health screenings
- Have greater mobility and are comfortable getting around
- Are more likely to live longer
- Generally have better cognitive health
One 12-year study measured the social activity levels and cognitive functioning of more than 1,100 older adults without dementia. Those with regular social contact had rates of cognitive decline that was 70 percent lower than those with low social activity.
Communities in which residents are active and socially engaged are more likely to have strong social capital. When people connect and give to their communities, the resources, skills and traits valued by the community grow.
Conversely, people who are not socially engaged often are isolated, which can lead to poor emotional health, high blood pressure, depression and a decline in physical health. Studies show that older adults who are isolated and have depression have higher mortality rates than people who are more satisfied with their lives. To find out how connected you are, take AARP's isolation self-assessment or download and distribute the AWLW self-assessment.
Everyone's personality is different, and forming new social connections is daunting to some. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to stay connected so, regardless of your personality type, you can stay engaged and healthy in ways that are comfortable to you.
How to Get Connected
Know Your Neighbor
The Know Your Neighbor campaign encourages connection and engagement with older neighbors while remaining safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about Know Your Neighbor (PDF).
A key component of aging well is keeping your mind active and stimulated – and a great way to do that is by learning. Not only does learning stimulate the brain, it encourages social interaction and is a great way to make new friends. Learning can give you a feeling of accomplishment, can help you build new skills, and may provide you with skills that can help you find a part-time job or second career.
Universities and community colleges often offer lifelong learning classes. Your local community, recreation or senior center is also a good place to look for learning opportunities. Additionally, consider contacting your local library to see what free learning options they have.
Be Civically Involved
Getting involved with your community is a great way to meet your neighbors and make a difference. Does your neighborhood have a neighborhood association? If so, being involved with it can help you to make a difference in your own backyard. You also could join a civic or social group such as AARP, Kiwanis or the Lions Club.
Civic engagement addresses public concerns and promotes the quality of communities. It also gives older adults a way to meet like-minded people and the opportunity to make a difference in something they are passionate about. Find a cause you care about and get involved. This is an opportunity to make positive change. It is a benefit to you, to the community and to the cause.
Explore Recreation and Hobbies
Visiting a senior center, taking up a new hobby or being outside are all great ways to be healthy and to meet new people. Research from the National Council on Aging shows that older adults who participated in senior center activities and found they could better manage and delay the onset of chronic diseases and improve their physical, social, spiritual, emotional, mental, and economic well-being than could those who did not. And a 2013 study showed that older adults who participate in outdoor recreation have lower rates of depression than those who do not.
There are many ways to be engaged:
- Visit your local senior center
- Become a Master Naturalist or a campsite host
- Learn a new hobby
- Attend an art class
- Plant a community garden
- Play a new board game
- Go to a community dance
- Try out for a local theater or choral group
What Communities Can Do
Make sure options are available to older residents. They want the same engagement options as everyone else. Don't limit your programs to certain demographic age groups – you will be amazed at what older adults can do.
A growing body of research shows that an important support for older adults who are interested in spirituality or religion is having a spiritual life. Studies show that older adults with spiritual beliefs have an increased psychological well-being and are less likely to develop depression and anxiety.
What Communities Can Do
Communities can help make sure older residents have transportation to services so they may pursue their spiritual interests. Long-term care services providers should consult with and consider the older adult's spiritual beliefs when developing a care plan. Professionals who plan older adults' activities should develop programing around different spiritual practices.
Steps to Start a Community Engagement Program
- Assess local resources to determine the programs, tools and resources that already are available within a community and help identify gaps. The following assessments can be helpful:
- Survey older adults to find out what they would enjoy doing
- Use assessment and survey results to identify needed programs or activities
- If no programs are available to address the identified needs, develop your own engagement program, activity or event to meet the need
- Develop a plan of action with tasks broken down into manageable steps
- Find community partners to help you
- Look for funding (e.g., grants, sponsors)
- Use Be Connected (PDF) to help create community awareness of programs and engagement options.
Volunteering is a great way to connect with others and give back. Connecting can help people stay engaged and active longer. AmeriCorps finds that people who volunteer live longer, experience greater life satisfaction and have lower rates of depression. To get started visit these sites:
Community organizations can benefit by providing volunteer opportunities for area residents. Volunteers can energize a program's mission by sharing their ideas on how to help the program grow. Organizations and communities looking to create volunteer and engagement options may find this resource helpful.
Volunteers play a critical role in providing meaningful, resident-focused activities necessary for long-term care residents’ quality of life and well-being.
Volunteers have the potential to bring diverse, meaningful, person-centered activities to residents’ daily lives, both in person and virtually. The following no-cost resources are available for nursing facility volunteer managers, volunteers and community partners.
Communities have found the benefits of bringing different generations together through intergenerational programs. Intergenerational activity programs can reduce ageism, foster a sense of identity, create a sense of community, build new skills and improve mental health and self-esteem.
The HHS Aging Services Coordination office developed the following Ages United resources to bring intergenerational engagement options to residents of long-term care facilities.
- The Ages United Guide, a step-by-step guide to intergenerational engagement in long-term care settings, is for groups of young people who would like to start volunteering in long-term care facilities and participate in meaningful engagement with residents. To request the “Ages United: A step-by-step guide to intergenerational engagement in long-term care settings” email Age Well Live Well.
- The Ages United Activity Planner for Social Emotional Learning (SEL)* is designed for high school faculty to assist with creating intergenerational nursing facility activities that align with SEL curriculum. Students can build relationships with residents in nearby nursing facilities, and volunteer opportunities can be one time or all year long and cross multiple disciplines. To request the “Ages United: Activity Planner for SEL,” email Age Well Live Well.
Continuing Education Training for Activity Directors
The “Long-Term Caring Guide for Nursing Facility Volunteer Managers*” training provides resources that help with volunteer program development and outreach strategies. Modules address culture, facility volunteerism and how to structure a successful volunteer management system. To access the training, visit the Texas HHS Learning Portal, create an account or log in, and search for “Long-Term Caring Guide for Nursing Facility Volunteer Managers.”
Nursing facility volunteers need training to meet resident safety and quality-of-life requirements. Volunteer managers can provide their volunteers with the Immersion Tour* featuring 10 mobile learning stations that align with regulatory considerations.
Each learning station uses a unique QR code enabling anyone with a smartphone to scan the code and access the content.
The Immersion Tour can function as a digital volunteer orientation tool or can be set up inside a facility.
To request the Immersion Tour training for nursing facility volunteers, email Age Well Live Well.
This planning guide* offers nursing facility volunteer managers a checklist to prepare for and establish a virtual volunteer program model.
The planner walks the facility volunteer manager through simple steps to solidify facility virtual programs, discover which formats are most beneficial for residents, establish policies and procedures, assess technology capabilities and determine basic program operations for staff and volunteers. To request the Virtual Volunteer Toolkit, email Age Well Live Well.
*Note: The foundation for this resource was developed with Civil Monetary Penalty funds from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.