How to build friendships in your senior years

Friends painting together

Simply put, friendships make our lives more fulfilling – no matter how old we are.

Dana Hansen, social services supervisor at Good Samaritan Society – Sioux Falls Village in South Dakota, says relationships play a key role in improving our well-being.

“For some of our residents, their friendships are what gets them out of bed in the morning. Friends give people a reason to keep going on those days when they really want to stay in their rooms,” she says.

Here are her tips for building friendships in a senior living community.

Get out there

“I think one of the biggest ways for residents to make friends is to put themselves out there. You have to attend a group meal or a social activity or an outing to be around other people,” states Dana. “Try to greet the new residents who move in. We all know what it’s like to be the new person and it’s hard.”

Try something new or do what you already love. Getting involved can introduce you to different people. Volunteering is a wonderful way to be out in your community and get to know people. Joining a hobby group can connect you with others who share your interest, whether it’s knitting, creating art or gardening.

Find a gathering place

“A gathering place really offers that neutral space for everybody. You don’t have to go to someone’s room,” Dana says. “If a person is feeling a little down or lonely or wants to talk to somebody, they can go to a common space or dining room.”

At Sioux Falls Village, residents can attend daily devotions led by the chaplain. There are also music activities one or more times a week where residents listen to singing. Twice a week, there is an art class. Dana says residents look forward to it and have met friends they wouldn’t have met otherwise.

Group outings give a different setting for residents to get to know new friends. Dana states, “When you’re out and doing something different, it sparks some different conversations.”

Bond over a common interest

In her role, Dana witnesses many types of friendships.

“Sometimes residents decide they want to order pizza and sit together for a meal. Maybe their family is throwing them a birthday party, so they invite a couple friends. We’ve had residents watch baseball together or even just kind of look out for one another.”

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20

Friendships can be a great support system. Dana is grateful to see the care and concern between residents.

“If we have a couple in the center and one of them passes away or has a changing health condition, it’s amazing to see how their friends rally around them. If we have a memorial service at the bedside when somebody passes away, the other residents come to it. They want to support one another.”

Connect (or reconnect) with old friends

It’s important to have connections to your past and with people you shared formative experiences with. Calling to say hello makes a difference. If you have a friend you’ve lost touch with, send a card, call, email or connect on social media. Chances are, they’ll be happy to hear from you.

If you end up living in the same senior living community, Dana says, “You have to meet the other person where they are now. They may not remember all the things you remember about what you did together or about your family, but there’s always those pieces that people can connect over.”

Keep trying

Don’t give up hope if you don’t bond right away with a new acquaintance or find a pal the first few times a club or class meets. Remember that it takes time to develop trust. Invite the new person to do something low-key – go for a walk, have a cup of tea – and build from there.

If you’re introverted but want to make friends with others, let a staff member know.

“Sometimes we know somebody else who’s looking for a friend or who has a common interest, and we can help make those connections,” says Dana.

She says it’s important to be open to getting to know others.

“Just to have a support system around you is so important, especially for some of our residents when they may not have family nearby,” Dana says.

Learn more about the importance of connecting with others.

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