7 Tips for Making Friends
You Can Help Seniors Reach out to Others
"I'm so lonely" was a common lament I heard as a care manager for seniors. With earnest naiveté, I suggested they go to the local senior center and make friends. Depending on the client, I would either get a half smile or a more pointed, "You are so green!"
I went to the local senior center myself and saw a lot of people sitting alone. I noticed small groups here and there - the same ones day after day. Two thoughts raced through my head. One, I guess when you become a senior, you are forced to re-live high school. And second, my clients had a point - they usually did. It is hard to make friends at senior centers, but caregivers can help pave the way by following these suggestions:
1. Encourage seniors to talk about their hesitancy in making friends. Don't let them avoid this important area of their lives or say, "I can't." Ask what they are afraid of. What holds them back? When was the last time they reached out to someone in friendship? What happened?
2. Reality-test their beliefs about making friends. Common themes that surfaced in my discussion with seniors included:
Response: Hear their fears and sadness. Then, have them list all the ways a friendship would enrich their lives. Talk about the contributions past friendships made to their lives. Point to the fact they survived these types of losses before and in the end had more joy then tears as a result of their friendships.
Response: Sit down together and list all the qualities the senior brings to a relationship. This task will enlighten both you and the senior about how much they have to give to others. This will help give them the confidence they need to get back in there!
3. Help them develop or fine tune conversation and social skills. Making new friends and keeping old ones take work. These skills may have gotten rusty if they have not made new friends in awhile. One of the best ways to develop conversation skills is to practice through role-play and preparation.
Write down and role-play conversation starters. Examples include:
4. Starting the conversation is only half the battle. Help seniors practice the next important steps, such as setting a date to meet again and keeping in contact with their new friends. Ask if they met anyone new that day. Learn their names and ask when they are seeing them again. Give them a social calendar and be interested in its developments.
5. Remove obstacles to socializing. Those you can act on include:
6. Find an environment with structured activities, such as activity programs at senior centers and social clubs at places of worship. Walking into free-form social situations, such as malls or worship services, can be difficult.
7. Finally, it is unlikely seniors will make new friends if they stay at home. Give them a firm nudge out the door and into a situation where they are going to meet people. Tips for facilitating this step may include:
Going to the social environment with them the first few times to provide emotional support, encouragement and coaching.
Talking to the activity director about ways to increase socialization if they are in an elder care facility.
Arranging a social event for your senior and their new friends.
Friendships are a vital to life. They are often lost as seniors age and they don't form new ones. As a caregiver, you can become as active and involved in your senior's social wellness as you are in medical wellness.