Everyone experiences loneliness at some point. But with the transitions that can come later in life – the children moving out, retiring from a job, losing or leaving a spouse – loneliness can hit particularly hard. The AARP surveyed over 3,000 adults in 2010 and found that over 35 percent of adults age 45 and older are lonely.
One of our goals at the Golden Girls Network is to ensure older adults have companions by pairing people with like-minded roommates, providing our members with someone to say hello to when they walk in the house, share a meal with, and enjoy a movie with on a rainy day. But in a Golden Girls home or out of one, we believe there are many ways older adults can make meaningful connections with other adults and, together, defeat that gray cloud called loneliness.
Take a class
Margaret Manning, in her blog Sixty & Me, discusses how baby boomers aren’t just looking for contacts; they’re looking for people that share their interests and values. What better way to meet those people than in a class where you’re exploring a topic that fascinates you? Many colleges and universities – including Ivy Leagues – allow seniors to audit a class for free or at intensely slashed tuition rates. If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, your local community/senior center generally offers reasonably priced classes on a variety of topics. Even your local library, grocery store, and hardware store can offer free seminars or “how-to” courses.
Loneliness can be as detrimental to a person’s health as smoking and alcohol consumption and more detrimental than obesity or physical inactivity, according to a 2010 study. So conquer both mental and physical woes by finding a walking buddy or joining a fitness class. Certain fitness centers, such as Welcyon and Nifty After Fifty, cater to the over-50 crowd, and many community/senior centers offer classes specifically geared toward older adults.
Be the initiator
Don’t wait for the phone to ring or an invitation to come in the mail. Take the initiative and call the people you’d like to know better or spend time with. Put together an eventful afternoon, like a museum visit and then an early dinner at a nice restaurant, or keep it carefree and invite everyone over for a potluck. Nothing will make you feel more powerful than taking your loneliness in hand and not letting it control you.
Attend a Meetup
“Find Your People” is the motto for the website Meetup.com, which helps people find and organize gatherings based on interests. A quick look at Meetup in the Washington, D.C.-metro area shows a large selection of Meetups for people over 50. And our Golden Girls Network regional directors are establishing them all over the country! While many are “singles” or dating oriented, other 50+ groups bring together travel enthusiasts, female book club members, movie lovers, and “women over 50 field hockey” players. Your choices are only limited by your imagination.
“During the holidays, spend Thanksgiving at a homeless shelter,” said our founder Bonnie Moore. “You will realize how lucky you are.” Volunteering not only connects you with other volunteers who share your passions, but it also helps you conquer your sadness by showing you how useful you can be in your community. If you have a favorite non-profit organization, call them up and ask how you can lend a hand. If you’re not sure where to start, use VolunteerMatch.com to find a volunteer opportunity in your area that matches your interests, skills, and available free time.
Join a Golden Girls Home!
Have an extra room in your home or interested in downsizing and moving into a home with other like-minded adults? Creating or moving into a Golden Girls Home is a great way to defeat loneliness. Golden Girls Network works to match mature adults who will become friends, rather than just housemates, and helps you find people who share your interests and values.
People 50 and over are the fastest growing segment of the travel industry and, because these travelers consider the companionship as important as the destination, you can find any variety of group tours for the 50+ traveler to anywhere you’d like to go. You can take a train trip, travel for volunteerism or education, or even take a “surprise tour” where you don’t know where you’re going until you end up at your hotel. Road Scholar, ElderTreks, AARP, and Senior Women’s Travel are all websites that provide information on trips for the over-50 explorer.
Participate in local senior center
People who engage at their local senior center are healthier, happier, and more socially connected, according to the National Council on Aging. Senior centers provide access to almost every loneliness-busting activity we mentioned above: fitness programs, volunteer opportunities, and social and recreational activities. Since baby boomers are two-thirds of the over-50 population, senior centers are re-inventing themselves to meet the interests of this active group.