You’re back on the playground on the first day of school. Who do you play with? Who do you sit with at lunch? Is anyone going to like you?
You’ve just moved into a college dormitory far from home. Your roommate is a stranger, and so is everyone else you’re living with. How are you going to socialize in this new environment?
It’s your first day at a new job. You’re eager to make a good impression and prove your value. Are coworkers or bosses watching you? Do they approve of you? Will you make friends here?
For those settling into a senior living community, the emotions they’re feeling are most likely ones they’ve felt before. By the time adults are over 65 years old, most have had the experience of being in a new environment several times over. Like children entering kindergarten, college students moving away on their own or workers starting their careers, senior citizens transitioning to senior living communities experience a change that brings new people, new surroundings, new activities and most likely, a new opportunity to develop healthy social lives.
There are seven typical ways people react to change:
- People will feel uncomfortable, awkward and self-conscious.
- People will first think of what they have to give up or lose.
- People will feel alone even if everyone else is going through the same thing.
- People will feel overwhelmed.
- People are at different levels of readiness for change.
- People will be concerned that they don’t have enough resources.
- If the pressure is off, people will revert to old behavior patterns or go back to their comfort zone.
Families of senior citizens who are moving into new communities should consider that their elderly loved one may feel one or many of these things. These reactions can be troublesome but are normal before a very serious, life-changing matter like moving into a new community. If you are a senior settling into a new home, it’s okay to react to change in these ways. It is okay if you feel this way about socializing in your new senior community. Socializing with new people might even be the most intimidating change of all.
Because elderly adults benefit from active social lives, it is worth an extra push of effort to develop, even in old age. Socializing appears to delay memory loss as we age, according to a study done by the Harvard School of Public Health. It also improves mood and lowers the chances of dementia. Engaging with other people gives seniors a sense of purpose and belonging, increases their self-confidence and self-esteem and improves their physical health. For all these reasons, socializing in your new senior community is essential. If you’re at a loss for how to start, continue reading this article.
1. Settling In
It’s likely that you have not moved into your new senior community all on your own. Maybe your spouse, son, daughter, grandchildren or friends helped you pack up and move your belongings into your new home. Fortunately, these people can further help you settle in socially. Take advantage of the opportunity to introduce your family to curious new neighbors. In fact, if these loved ones are visiting you once in a while, they’ll become familiar with your neighbors as well! Loved ones tend to make us feel brave and outgoing. If this is true for you, you’ll find yourself being more talkative, bright and approachable when meeting new people with the help of your loved ones.
When all has quieted down, you may find yourself not knowing what to do next. Try taking a stroll through your new home. Once you’ve looked through your own personal space, go outside. Walk through the community area. If neighbors live in the same building and happen to see you pass by, they might say hello before you can! Check out the communal areas in your senior living community. Is there a recreation room, cafeteria, television room, gym or a popular social gathering place nearby? Figure out what places you like most, and make a plan to return.
2. Introduce Yourself
Don’t worry if you feel a bit like a zoo animal getting looks and stares from people around you. You are new to the neighborhood, and people are curious about you. Break the ice by approaching someone who looks friendly, shake their hand and tell them your name. Tell them when you moved in. Tell them where you came from and continue on with whatever else comes to your mind after that, then remember to ask the other person about the same things you told them about. Exchanging introductions when you are first settling into a new senior community spurs the rest of the social interaction you will have with the people in your new home. You’ll be fortunate to find things you share in common with others, just from the initial encounter you have with them. Pretty soon, everyone will know you by name.
3. Your First Connection
Everyone can remember the first friend they had, especially when they went to school or started a new job. In your new living arrangement, this person is special. Whoever you first feel comfortable with in your new living arrangement is your initial social connection to the rest of the community. This person gives you an avenue towards relating to and appreciating your new environment. They can tell you what they already know about your senior community and share their experience living there. They may be the first person to genuinely reciprocate your efforts to socialize, and you will probably stay connected to them because of it. But after you make your first friend, feel free to grow from there. One friend can do a lot to make you feel welcome and comfortable, but imagine how many other special people there are in your new home who can and who want to do the same.
4. The Community Staff
It might be most feasible for you to connect with a staff member in your senior community. This can be a health professional, office worker, facility worker, chef, social worker or even the driver of your community’s transportation vehicles. Since these employees are so present in your new life, and typically the people you see every day, it benefits you to create a healthy relationship with them. Say hello, ask how they are doing, and treat them with respect. Staff members are professionally committed to your wellbeing and the prosperity of your senior community. When they are more familiar with you, they are better-suited for anticipating and supporting your needs.
5. The Common Areas
Depending on your preference as an introvert or extrovert, the common areas in your senior community can either invite you or scare you away. Common areas such as the recreation center, television room, dining area, library or gym are commodities people normally do not have in their own houses. In places like these, you frequently encounter the largest number of people you’ll see on any given day. That amount of people can intimidate introverts, which not only discourages them from enjoying the particular area but also sends them back to their private space. If this is your preference, remember that isolation is not healthy for seniors and socializing benefits you in many ways. A common area holds many opportunities for you to socialize while you do something you enjoy, like watching television, playing games or eating. Also, remember that you do not have to socialize with everyone in a social area. You can actually just spend some time there by yourself, in the quiet company of others.
6. Teaming Up
A teammate can help you overcome any social barrier in your new community. This teammate may be your first friend, a fellow newcomer, or your spouse. Imagine the joy and pleasure of meeting new people with someone you are already close to or someone you can really relate to. If it is your spouse, they may have been doing this with you for years! They compliment your communication style, encourage you, remind you of great things to talk about and ease the tension of making first impressions. You will benefit from discovering a new place with someone you care about because of the access you’ll have to two points of view. You will see your new community one way, and the special companion will see it another. When you share those views together, you will see the best of both worlds.
7. Trying Again
It’s not safe to assume that every social interaction in your new senior community will go as planned. You might feel vulnerable in a new home, and curious, but hesitant. When you overcome those feelings and will yourself out of your comfort zone to socialize, it hurts if someone doesn’t reciprocate or treats you unfairly. Not everyone is willing to develop a healthy social network, even if it benefits them physically, mentally and emotionally. If you are, you have jumped the hurdle ahead of many others. Feel proud of your efforts to socialize. Remember that in another person, you will have the chance to create a connection that may last forever.
8. Having Conversations
In old age, time is not as pressured and there is not much rush to cram information into short conversations. When you have conversations with new people in your senior community, you have time to think through what you say and listen carefully. You live with these new people, and you’ll very likely see them the next day. You can talk to them again and again. Having conversations will build your relationships, social skills and self-esteem. When talking to new friends, you have to warm up to different communication styles while others do the same for you. Take it easy, try to work past any nervousness you might feel and remember that having conversations is a rewarding pastime.
9. Adjusting to Your New Home
To review the seven typical reactions to change, here they are again. Remember, seniors who overcome these negative feelings do so by adjusting to change in their new senior communities. Healthy socializing in a new senior community will help you do this. In addition, you will need relationships to foster the happiness and health you want to have in your new home.This is how to work through the seven typical reactions to change in order to adjust to your new home:
- Instead of feeling uncomfortable, awkward and self-conscious, find out what to expect from your senior community. Be informed about the daily patterns there, who you will see most often and what activities you can participate in. Settle your thoughts on the purpose of your move and mentally highlight what you benefit from it.
- Rather than thinking of what you have to give up or lose, let go of things as part of your past, treasure them and share stories of them with others, but know that you have grown into a new life where things you gain will help fill the spaces of things you lost.
- You may feel alone even if everyone else is going through the same thing, but remember that all of your neighbors in this new senior community have been in your shoes. They can all relate to you. You are just as capable of adjusting to a new environment as they were.
- Instead of feeling overwhelmed, take your transition process day by day. The first day may be the hardest as you become comfortable in your new home, but that just leaves infinite potential and many future days for things to get easier.
- Acknowledge that people are at different levels of readiness for change, including you. Your spouse and other residents who you may try to socialize with might feel anywhere from resistant to jubilant about changing where they live. Be sensitive to this and work with each other to make the change as comfortable as possible.
- If you are concerned that you don’t have enough resources to support your new life in a senior community, ask about it. Ask the person who manages your finances or review your own financial records. Ask the director of your senior community if your funds are enough to pay for your residency. If you are comfortable doing it, ask a trusted neighbor about their financial experience with the community.
- If the pressure is off, you might revert to old behavior patterns or go back to your comfort zone, meaning you might retreat to your private room and forget about socializing. But after reading these tips and learning how easy and enjoyable it can be, you may not want miss out on the endless opportunities for socializing in your new home.
Need Help? If you need assistance finding the best senior living community for you or your elderly loved one, we would love to talk to you.
“Tips for Healthy Socializing in a New Senior Community,” by Michelle Mendoza, Amada Blog Contributor.