1. Draw on past experiences.
You may think of senior living as a totally new world, but actually it’s not. Consider a time when you have moved into a new home and think about how you approached making new friends.
“Senior living is no different,” Richardson says, “often your neighbors are your first point of contact and that’s a great place to start.”
Try making a point of knocking on your neighbors’ doors if only to say hello. It’s the little things that can spark a friendship and move you in the right direction.
2. Tap resources in the community.
“Brookdale has Resident Programs associates whose primary focus is to get to know new residents, understand their likes, dislikes and interests,” Richardson says. “Then they may know of someone else who has similar interests.”
Whatever senior living community you choose, let the staff know if you’re nervous about making friends, and ask for their advice and help with connecting to other residents.
3. Get involved — but don’t get discouraged if that doesn’t yield immediate friendships.
Shared interests can be a wonderful foundation upon which to build a friendship. Although at first, many will encourage you to attend larger group programs, this is not always the easiest way to make a friend. Friendship do not happen overnight and that’s okay. You are not alone, everyone in your senior living community remembers the moment when they were the new resident in town. I suggest getting involved in smaller, more intimate groups where people share a common interest — such as a gardening or walking club. This may bring a renewed sense of purpose and belonging as well as comradery which creates friends!
4. Focus on making one friend first.
Don’t become overwhelmed by the idea of making a group of friends. Start small. Making one connection can be a doorway to more.
“That first new friend can open many new doors. They may have intriguing interests that you’ve never considered before,” Richardson says. “It may be that you never care much about reading but this new friend insisted that you join the book club. Now you are enjoying new experiences with new friends and that’s the start of what we call engagement! It usually starts with just one friend.”
5. Get a seat at the table.
No surprise, lots of bonds form in the dining room. Dining room seating policies can vary depending on the community. When you move in, find out what the situation is, and then make a plan. If it’s open seating, look for a table of friendly faces, take a deep breath and introduce yourself! If you have to reserve a table, ask the staff if they know of anyone else who might want a dining companion.
And don’t forget about the lobby, where you’ll see lots of residents come and go. Say hello or ask for recommendations for fun things to do. “Casual interactions are important and they can lead to amazing friendships,” Richardson says.
6. Remember that everyone makes friends at different paces.
It’s easy to say, but it’s worth repeating: Be patient and gentle with yourself, and most important, be yourself. If you are really struggling, don’t hesitate to ask an associate for some help. Most communities have at least one resident who is passionate about welcoming new ones!
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