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Helping an older person stay connected to the world

Advice articles
Helping an older person stay connected to the world

How can you help an older friend or family member stay connected with friends and the broader community?

The older you get, the harder it is to stay in touch with other people. About half of older New Zealanders experience some level of loneliness in their lives, compared to approximately 9% of the rest of the population. Not getting enough social connection is likened to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, in terms of health impact.1

So how do you encourage older people to maintain existing friendships and build new ones? Telling them what to do will have mixed results; nobody enjoys being bossed around. Instead, you need a softly-softly approach and lots of ideas, which you can help put into action. Do any of these fit the bill?

  • Probus. A worldwide organisation, Probus started back in 1965 for retired and semi-retired professionals. In New Zealand, Probus South Pacific clubs meet monthly. These meetings generally feature a special guest speaker followed by the organising of activities, cruises, trips, picnics, events, fundraisers and get-togethers.
  • The Men’s Shed. A not-for-profit organisation where blokes come together to work on a range of projects while speaking about what’s on their mind. Each group has a community space to share their skills, have a laugh and work on practical tasks individually (personal projects) or as a group (for the shed or community). There are ‘sheds’ throughout New Zealand, which can be found at menzshed.org.nz
  • Crafting. From crochet and knitting to jewellery making and scrapbooks, crafting is ideal for someone who is feeling creative and wants to create a keepsake. Get onto Facebook or visit your local community centre to see what’s available – there’ll be groups that suit more experienced crafters, as well as those wanting to try something out for the first time.
  • Gardening. There are gardening clubs throughout New Zealand that welcome new members. They usually hold monthly meetings that include lectures, demonstrations and group discussions. Sharing seeds, bulbs and cuttings with others is a great way to make friends.
  • Golf. Taking up golf is good for body, mind and social connections. It involves plenty of walking and brain activity. And when the round is complete, the famous ‘19th hole’ (club house) awaits for refreshments and the chance to make new friends. Golf is also an excellent excuse for travel, both around New Zealand and overseas.
  • Tai chi. Google ‘tai chi near me’ to find opportunities to learn a new skill that’s both relaxing and energising. Tai chi is great for older bodies, because it’s low impact and performed at a slow pace. Learning the sequences is excellent brain exercise.
  • Lawn bowls. Much like golf, bowling is a way to get exercise, brain gym and social fun all at once. There are more than 500 bowling clubs around New Zealand and they’re all keen for new members. Playing against other clubs around the country introduces travel into the mix as well.
  • Volunteering. Encourage your older friend or family member to donate their time and energy to a worthy cause. This could be anything from the Red Cross to working with a conservation organisation that’s helping to rehabilitate a park or island. Volunteering New Zealand has a website dedicated to finding volunteer work.
  • Art classes. Attending art classes and workshops can reignite a passion for creativity. Depending on where you live, there may be local opportunities for learning and practicing various forms of art.
  • Walking groups. Walkingnewzealand.co.nz is a directory of walking, running and hiking groups. They’re all over New Zealand, from the Bay of Islands to Southland. Many of the groups are for people in the 60+ age category.

To help ensure the success of new social activities, keep your wider family network up-to-date with what’s happening and ask them for input. If one activity isn’t quite right, encourage trial of some other ideas. When things go well, celebrate! Positive reinforcement will help new habits to stick.

1 Dr H Jamieson. 2020. Social Isolation