I recently learned of four 91-year-old women who have been friends for 74 years. The friends formed a “sorority” in their high school days and have shared life’s joys and sorrows together ever since. Today the friends, who are all now widowed, live on the same floor of a Brookdale community in Niles, Illinois. Their story is so compelling – several other women moved in after seeing their story, just so they could join in their friendship circle!
Research shows that social connections improve quality of life, but as you age, longer periods alone can cause isolation and loneliness. That’s where senior living can play an important component – not only do you receive the support you need, but you have the opportunity to meet new friends as well! I have seen many people over the years move in and find their place in a new community. A large component of the settling in process involves friends. Here are five tips for making friends that I have observed over my 20 years of working in senior living.
1. Bring your friends with you.
Take a lesson from the “sorority” sisters in Illinois – this is what they did! One moved into Brookdale Niles, and asked the others to follow. In fact, this is one of the best ways older adults find their way into senior living. Others have moved in only to discover that a person from their past is living in the community and old friendships are renewed.
2. Keep an open mind.
Many seniors are surprised by the new life they find in a senior living community. Be open to making friends with people you meet, even those who might not seem like someone you would mix with. Community life inherently offers a common ground that can be the basis for a potential friendship. Say “hi” in the hallways, greet new residents when they move in and spend some time in the common areas.
3. Get involved in the life of the community.
One thing I have learned from happy residents is that you have to get out and about in the life of the community, even if you don’t feel like it at first. I remember one woman who said that early in her time at the community, in spite of feeling a bit sad, she decided to put a smile on her face when she walked out the door of her apartment and to be open to what the day would bring. This positive attitude helped her get involved and she is now a thriving member of the community.
That is great advice considering the wide variety of activities offered at Brookdale communities. When you are researching senior living, be sure to ask about the activities offered and find a place that keeps your pace. If your interests are not represented on the calendar of activities, talk to the leadership about starting a club, a card game or a new garden/wood shop.
4. Dine with a variety of people.
Meal times at a senior living community are the hub of social engagement. While it can be a bit intimidating to walk into that setting alone, it is made easier by locating a staff member who can help you find an open chair and some new folks to dine with. It is also helpful to find another new resident and ask them to join you for a meal.
5. Make friends with the staff.
A senior living community at its best is a family. While it is true that staff members must maintain professional boundaries (for example, staff are not allowed to accept gifts from residents) these intergenerational friendships benefit everyone. I personally have had many rich relationships with residents over the course of my career.
The four longtime friends all agreed that friendship depends on one thing, “You gotta like each other.” Making friends in senior living is no exception, find some folks you like and you will be well on your way.
Carol Cummings is Senior Director, Optimum Life Engagement and Innovation
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