It’s been four years since Covid-19 forced shutdowns of nursing homes, assisted living communities, schools, businesses, and many public places. Four in 10 Americans; however, do not feel their lives have returned to “pre-pandemic normal,” according to Gallup. For older adults and seniors who may be wondering how to create a new normal for themselves, this year’s theme for Older Americans Month likely will be especially inspiring.

This public awareness campaign during the month of May is a special time of year when spotlights shine on the contributions and significance of older adults and seniors in American society. It’s a period for us to acknowledge, celebrate and support our seniors. This year’s theme, “Powered by Connection,” highlights the vital role that social interactions and relationships play in promoting healthy aging.

The significant positive impacts that social interactions can have on physical and mental health is underscored by last year’s U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory, “The Healing Effects of Social Connection.” The report presents research showing that social connection is declining to such a degree that Americans are at risk of experiencing an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation.”

Ways Seniors Can Feel Connected

Social connection is a vehicle that can transform an individual’s whole health and well-being. This is especially true for aging seniors who report feeling happier and healthier when they engage with others.

Here are some ways seniors can feel connected and uncover the profound benefits of these connections on their well-being:

  1. Embrace Technology

In an era where technology bridges distances, teaching seniors to use gadgets and applications can help them stay in touch with family and friends. Video calls, social media, and instant messaging can make them feel involved and cherished.

  1. Community Engagement

Participating in community events, clubs, or groups tailored to their interests can provide seniors with a sense of belonging. Whether it’s a book club, gardening group, or a walking club, these activities offer opportunities for social interactions and new friendships.

The program engAGED, also known as the National Resource Center for Engaging Older Adults, not only helps seniors find local intergenerational activities but also provides safety guidelines for browsing the internet, protecting your personal online information and socializing safely online.

  1. Volunteering

Offering their time and expertise, seniors can find volunteering extremely rewarding. It not only helps them feel needed and useful but also puts them in touch with people from different walks of life.

It’s worth checking to see if your city offers a Retired Senior Volunteer Program that supports the police department, Meals on Wheels, non-emergency transportation for non-drivers, or other community programs. The national AmeriCorps Seniors Senior Companion Program connects volunteers aged 55 and older to serve as companions to seniors.

  1. Lifelong Learning

Enrolling in courses or workshops that cater to their interests can help older adults meet like-minded individuals. Many community colleges and libraries offer special programs for seniors, covering a vast range of topics from art and history to technology.

If it’s not convenient to attend classes in person, seniors can still experience connection through online platforms that are free to access like UCLAxOpen or available for an affordable subscription such as MasterClass.

Older adults and seniors can join online communities to learn how to cook a specific cuisine, watch and discuss movies, have a workout or do yoga, or participate in a support group through the AARP Virtual Community Center. The interactive events and classes are free and AARP membership is not required.

  1. Regular Gatherings

Family gatherings, whether in person or virtual, help maintain strong family bonds. Regular meetups with peers for coffee or dinner can also offer comfort and companionship.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek has issued the “5-for-5 Connection Challenge” to encourage seniors but also Americans of every age to make a commitment to connecting with others.

Benefits of Connection for a Senior’s Healthy Aging

According to the Mayo Clinic, “there’s no healthy aging magic bullet.” The one thing that comes close are strong social connections. Here are the many reasons why connection matters for seniors:

Promotes Mental Health
Staying connected helps ward off feelings of loneliness and isolation, significantly reducing the risk of depression and anxiety. Engaging in meaningful conversations and activities stimulates the brain and contributes to better mental health.

Enhances Physical Health
Socially active seniors often have better physical health, partly because they’re more motivated to take care of themselves. It can lead to lower blood pressure, reduced risk of cardiovascular issues, and generally more proactive health behaviors.

Boosts Cognitive Function
Interaction with others stimulates the brain and can help keep cognitive functions sharp. Engaging in conversations, learning new skills, and participating in group activities are all cognitive exercises that can potentially delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Increases Longevity
Studies have shown that having a strong social network and being connected with others can increase lifespan. The support system provided by these connections plays a crucial role in navigating the challenges of aging.

Provides Emotional Support
Having someone to share your experiences, joys, and concerns with is invaluable at any age. For seniors, having a support network ensures emotional backing during tough times and enhances joy during good times.

As we celebrate Older Americans Month, let’s commit to fostering these connections, recognizing the value they bring not only to the lives of seniors but to our society as a whole. After all, we are truly powered by connection, transcending age to find unity and strength in the bonds we share.