Moving into an assisted living facility is a huge transition for many older Americans. The new environment and living spaces, the different routines and unfamiliar faces can sometimes cause seniors to self-isolate, become depressed or lonely, or to lose touch with the things in life that bring them joy.
Without setting out to make new personal connections deliberately, some seniors will not be able to keep up the social interactions that keep them mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy. Here are four steps to making connections and developing friendships while living in assisted living facilities.
Look for Common Ground
The best place to look for new friends in any scenario is to attend events or inhabit spaces where people with common interests gather. Joining a hobby-focused group such as a scrapbooking club, knitting group, or book club are ways to share interests with people even when nervous or concerned about fitting in. Other ways to identify common ground are to attend movie or television showings rather than watching alone in a private living space.
Assisted living facilities commonly offer outings. Going with a group to a grocery store, community event, or religious organization may provide options for conversation, once again grouping people together by a commonality of experience or interest. Staying in the facility at all times or only being transported solo can limit exposure to others and thus curtail possibilities for new friendships.
Some assisted living facilities offer support groups for various illnesses, life experiences, or disorders. Although this can feel intensely private, community is a great way to get through the tough parts of aging and life, such as the loss of a spouse, maintaining sobriety, or living with dementia. Seniors should take a risk in attending, and decide if they are comfortable being somewhat vulnerable. The friendships made in these kinds of scenarios can be deep and long-lasting since the people participating in them share their own stories as well as supporting others.
Attend Welcoming Events
Many assisted living facilities are aware that making friends in a new place can be a challenge. Because of this, they create events for new residents that allow for connections to bud and blossom. Although a senior may be somewhat nervous, tired, or overwhelmed by the move, it is good to attend these events. They vary in length and subject matter, but they are good ways to strike up conversations, ask questions, and find out what activities are available to take part in.
Know Your Resources
Consulting the staff of an assisted living facility is one way to access social resources. Asking direct questions, such as: "I am interested in [some activity]. Who around here is also interested and wouldn't mind me asking them questions or chatting with them about it?" or "Who here is the first to greet new people? Where can I find them and at what time of day?" shows interest in making connections with other people. Since social interaction is a key to remaining healthy, the staff should be happy to answer these questions.
Talk About Struggles
If a senior is struggling to make friends, hopefully he or she will confide in caregivers and make a plan with them on how to take action. These may be immediate caregivers in the facility, but may also be a therapist or doctor, a family member or loved one who does not live in the facility, or someone else whom the senior knows and trusts.
Actively taking steps to make friends can stave off depression, anxiety, and loneliness, and it also keeps a person happy! Life in an assisted living facility does not have to be scary and new for long, and it can be a happy time of life. Making a plan and taking the time and effort to make friends will benefit any assisted living resident.
American Healthcare Association, National Center for Assisted Living. Moving Into An Assisted Living Residence: Making a Successful Transition. Available at https://www.ahcancal.org/ncal/resources/Documents/Moving%20Into%20AL%20pdf%20for%20LTC%20living%20Web%20Site.pdf. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
AssistedLivingFacilities.org. Moving Into an Assisted Living Community: Helping Parents Make a Move. Available at http://www.assistedlivingfacilities.org/resources/moving-into-an-assisted-living-community/. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
AssistedLivingResident.net. Making Friends as a Newcomer. Available at http://assistedlivingresident.net/?page_id=41. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
Sykes, Kate. Making Friends: You've Got This. MySilverAge.com (March 10, 2015). Available at http://mysilverage.thebegroup.org/Relationships/Making-Friends-Youve-Got-This. Retrieved April 18, 2016.