How to keep up the social network

While there’s no one blanket rule or fool-proof answer to helping our parents as they get older, we do know the importance of supporting them through this life stage so that they can feel in control and confident in their later years. 

Different stages of life or as we’ve seen more recently, unexpected world events such as the coronavirus pandemic can bring significant changes to our social circumstances. Circumstances like social distancing, self-isolation or a change in living situation will come with many lifestyle changes that can increase stress on the individual and the families.

To combat feelings of isolation and loneliness, it’s increasingly important to make sure our loved ones are staying connected to friends, family and their community. On the surface this might sound difficult in the current environment, however organisations and individuals are getting better at bringing social opportunities to you through the virtual world plus there are some documented health benefits as well.

Studies show that increased participation in social activities – even something as simple as visiting or chatting to friends and family – will slow the rate of cognitive decline in older adults. 

Beyondblue also found that the number of Australians feeling lonely is increasing over time, and those in their later years are even more susceptible to those feelings of isolation – but it doesn’t have to become an inevitable part of getting older!

If you know that your parents have a strong social connection, then they’re likely to:

  • Report better quality of life and satisfaction with their life
  • Have delayed progression of dementia and mental decline
  • Need less domestic support and enjoy greater independence.

Which activity is best?

Here are some talking points to get the conversation started with your parents about which activity would be of most interest to them.

  • Is the location a factor would you prefer something local? Does it need to be walking distance away?
  • How many hours do you want to spend on this each week?
  • Do you want this to be a solo activity, or something in a group setting?
  • Would you prefer something more creative, or something physical?
  • Do you want to give back to the community, or learn something new for yourself?
  • Do you have a budget in mind, or would you prefer a free activity?

Ten activities to get started

Do any of these sound like they might suit your parents as they get older?

1.  Exercise

Getting your daily steps in is a great way to keep moving and enjoy the outdoors, or if your preference is more organised exercise, there are plenty of low-impact programs out there that are better suited to someone starting to slow down. Your GP or Physiotherapist could be a good person to ask for local options that best suit you.

2.  Probus

As a worldwide organisation, Probus started back in 1965 for retired and semi-retired professionals. In Australia, Probus clubs comprise over-55s who usually meet monthly to organise activities including cruises, trips, picnics, events and fundraisers.

3.  Men’s Shed

This is a not-for-profit organisation where blokes come together to work on a range of projects while speaking about what’s on their mind. With more than 1,000 ‘sheds’ across Australia, members do everything from making furniture to restoring bikes and fixing lawn mowers. If you’re concerned your dad might be struggling with life post-retirement, this is a great place to start.

4.  Studying

For those who haven’t lost their love of learning, Open Universities Australia offer courses through universities across Australia and allows you to study entirely online.

5.  Sing Australia

As a national organisation, Sing Australia has 150 groups around Australia. It’s perfect for someone who loves to sing but wouldn’t be winning any karaoke competitions anytime soon!

6.  Crafting

From crochet to scrapbooks, crafting is ideal for someone who is feeling creative and wants to create a keepsake. Get onto Facebook or visit your parents’ local community centre to see what’s available.

7.  Gardening

With more than 600 clubs throughout Australia, Garden Clubs of Australia is an umbrella organisation to get involved with. Otherwise, check around to see if there is a community garden your folks can join to be able to meet likeminded lovers of the outdoors.

8.  Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a great way to meet new people plus get in some low-impact exercise that’ll keep joints and muscles happy. Often referred to as ‘meditation in motion’, Tai Chi is an activity that combines awareness of the body, mindfulness, visualisation and relaxation. So, if your loved one feels stressed or agitated, Tai Chi is an opportunity to feel mentally and physically grounded.

9.  Volunteering

Social activities can also include giving back to the local community through volunteering with a charity or organisation that your parents might have an affinity to. From the Australian Red Cross to working with a wildlife organisation the opportunities are endless.

10. Museum and gallery tours

For those with an interest in arts and culture, museums like the National Gallery of Victoria run group tours throughout the day, and these can be led by volunteers who share that passion for the arts.

Now what?

How do you encourage your loved ones to get social?

Start small. If they can’t decide on an activity, pick something within their comfort zone to try out.

Get researching. Encourage your parents to use the list above as a starting point, so they can figure out the kind of activity they’d like to try.

Go local. If you’re starting with online research and hitting dead ends, try heading to your local council or community centre for inspiration instead.

Make a plan. Pencil time into the diary or book a class so that they have something to look forward to.

Rally the troops. Keeping your wider network of family and friends aware of what’s happening will help them to be more proactive about getting your parents more involved in social activities.

Keep trying. You don’t want your parents to feel disheartened if something doesn’t quite go the way they expected. If an activity wasn’t quite right for them, push them to try something new so they don’t lose momentum.

Share successes. From a simple phone call to see how the activity went, to bringing it up during conversation with extended family celebrating their getting out and about will help to encourage your parents to continue to do so.

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