Living in a retirement community is a little like being in a college dorm — you are surrounded by people with similar interests and concerns
Are you ready to par-tay? Of course, as we age, we’re no longer interested in living in a chaotic college dorm or going to wild frat parties, but most of us do enjoy being around people. Social interactions allow us to share our joys and problems, try new things and activities, and bring us happiness. And studies prove that social interactions are one of the keys to healthy aging — physically, mentally and emotionally.
A study from the Rochester Institute of Technology looked at all age groups, from children to older adults, and found that “social support is one of most important factors in predicting the physical health and well-being of everyone.” Another study that looked at social networks and health of older people discovered that “because of their more active social life, residents in care facilities have a more positive outlook on life and tend to be happier than those living by themselves.”
While the second study was undertaken in facilities that provide assisted-living care, the same is true of senior adults living in independent retirement communities.
If you’ve made the decision to live in a retirement community or if you’re thinking about making a move to one, here are the benefits to living in a place where you’re nearly 100 percent guaranteed to have increased social interactions.
Improves physical and mental fitness. Often, recreational centers or clubhouses are available on site to give seniors the opportunity to connect with peers and participate in community activities, such as arts and crafts, holiday gatherings, continuing education classes, or movie nights. Independent living facilities may also offer facilities such as a swimming pool and a fitness center.
Discover new hobbies and activities. According to the 2009 Independent Living Report by the ProMatura Group, research shows that when you become part of an independent living retirement community, you’re more likely to make new friends and try new things — in fact. most senior adults reported a better experience than they expected. Did you know that the proportion of travel adventurers over age 85 has increased more than 70 percent since 2004, according to Exploritas, formerly known as Elderhostel? And there’s no reason why you can’t take up golf, tennis, bridge or another hobby or activity you have never tried before. There are often numerous clubs formed by residents in a retirement community. Why not start one yourself?
Reduces stress and helps you cope with difficult issues. Remember the James Taylor song “You’ve Got a Friend”? A social support system helps people cope with and forget the negative aspects of their lives. It also makes them feel less isolated and alone.
Prevents depression from developing. Anxiety and depression can develop when a person feels isolated or lonely. Similar to decreasing stress levels, a support group of like-minded people, with similar experiences, can help you through difficult, painful times — such as losing a loved one.
Helps prevent memory loss. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found evidence that elderly people in the U.S. who have an active social life may have a slower rate of memory decline. Senior author Lisa Berkman said, “We now have mounting evidence that strong social networks can help to prevent declines in memory. As our society ages and has more and more older people, it will be important to promote their engagement in social and community life to maintain their well-being.”
When you move into a retirement community, don’t put pressure on yourself by expecting too much too soon. Start by making acquaintances. You can always develop a deeper, more personal friendship over time.