A sense of belonging. As a basic principle of human nature, this is a feeling we all want to have, no matter what age we are. Life often passes quicker than we anticipate. Feelings consume our lives. The migration to old age can be a hard thing to wrap your head around and to accept—until you reach that point of no return. However, having a sense of worth, as well as people who support your journey, make this transition worthwhile.
Thanks to the pandemic, modern society’s course shifted drastically in the past two and half years. Families and friends distanced in great numbers, fearful of contracting an unpredictable illness. This has taken a toll on everyone. For the senior population, it manifested in an unfortunate loss of basic human interaction…if they weren’t already experiencing it before. Although we knew the importance of “connections,” it wasn’t until we were more or less cut off from them that we all found out how absolutely vital they are.
However, the knowledge we’ve gained from this experience has given us valuable insight on how to reach out and make sure seniors in our community are connected and feeling worthwhile.
As we age, quality of life can decline or become more challenging to manage. The support of those around us becomes more of a necessity: ironically, to stay independent, we may actually need to be a bit more dependent in some areas of our life. The spirit can’t help but feel a bit overwhelmed by the scenario.
That’s why engagement is so important; it’s a kindness to the mind. Community is an incredible buffer. Socialization and the continuation of relationships (old and new!) help to create an overall sense of wellness and connection. The National Institute on Aging has extensive research showing that isolation and loneliness are linked to a higher risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Maximizing social capital and interactions therefore help mobilize a better commonality and strengthen a populace.
Joining a local community centre, volunteering, taking part in a fitness class or another group activity…these are opportunities to make meaningful connections. Additionally, such forms of gathering provide some “extra eyes and ears” on individuals who may not otherwise have the means to cope with their current situation. Oftentimes, people have lost a spouse or live far away from immediate family. Contacts that are outside their usual scope can be critically important. Word of mouth, volunteerism, spending time with people in similar situations all assist in the endeavour to remain healthy.
In recognition of the importance of healthy aging, community supportive programs have been purposefully created. In most municipalities, there are many resources available. You’ll often find a comradery among individuals who are working towards making the lives of those around them better. As people age out of their careers and retire, many hunger for something meaningful to fill their time. Volunteering has a huge capacity for that exact effect: fulfillment. The sense of gratification which volunteering provides can also help people forge a powerful connection to where they live. Within a circle of people, it creates a network of carrying through and doing what needs to be done. Things like rides to medical appointments, group support programs, grocery shopping and help around the house—all have immense value to those who are in need and likewise to volunteers delivering these supportive services.
These activities help mobilize a greater sense of thriving, no matter which side of the spectrum you are on. It’s a feeling of support around you. The importance of building community as you age is reflected in better health, well-being, security and most importantly the feeling that we are being looked after by one another. In other words, in a world and at a time where isolation is increasingly common, getting a good dose of community is a prescription for better living and positive aging!