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Ask Our Experts: The importance of a social life in our retirement years

Allison SAllison Schindler
National Director, Memory Living & Life Enrichment
At Chartwell since 2009

A popular misconception that I’ve come across since I started in the industry many years ago is that seniors choose a retirement living lifestyle solely because they’ve experienced a health scare and now require the availability of care services—but that couldn’t be more untrue! In fact, many of the residents I’ve come to know well have chosen to move in for a variety of reasons: because they no longer wish to maintain a home (which entails a lot of work, as we all know—from cutting grass and shovelling driveways to every day clean-up and repairs), could benefit from some help with cooking nutritional meals or getting back and forth to appointments, or simply because they feel lonely living on their own. On this last point I’d like to talk further.

It’s certainly not uncommon to experience feelings of loneliness in your later years, especially if you’ve recently lost a spouse or close friend, or your family doesn’t live nearby. This is a motivating factor for many older individuals who consider living in a community of peers. Take one of our residents, Jennifer, for example: self-identifying as a “people-person” who thrives on conversation and regular socialization, she knew after her husband passed away that she wouldn’t be happy living on her own. Though she admits to being “fed up with cooking and housework,” she didn’t move in because she couldn’t handle it, or due to a health condition; she was actively seeking a social support network and engaging lifestyle. And, happily, she found what she was looking for at her retirement residence, and has since become very good friends with a resident named Marilyn.

I can’t stress enough how important social engagement—or participation in meaningful activities and maintaining personal relationships—is to one’s mental and emotional well-being. It’s a crucial component of healthy and successful aging, with many studies showing it can improve seniors’ risk of depression and disability, and even lead to better cognitive health, among many other physiological benefits. The proof is well documented, as Statistics Canada research shows that the greater number of frequent social activities that a senior participates in, the higher the odds of them reporting positive, self-perceived wellness, and the lower the odds of reporting themselves as lonely or dissatisfied with life.

It’s therefore encouraging to see so many of today’s seniors proactively considering retirement living as a solution to some of the challenges they face as they age, including feelings of social isolation. In a seniors’ community, residents mingle with staff and peers on a daily basis during meals, activities, outings, and in many other circumstances, with total freedom to choose how often to socialize and where. Understandably, not everyone needs the same amount of daily socialization, which is why having that choice is so important. Relax in the privacy of your suite, participate in the activities and outings you enjoy, come and go from the residence as you please, whatever your personal preference! And although retirement living is a great option, that’s not to say that other living options aren’t available to you too, like moving in with a family member or choosing another accommodation choice. Regardless, having that self-awareness that living on your own may not be conducive to your emotional or mental wellness is what’s important, especially for those personalities who know their happiness is particularly tied to regular socialization.

Download a sample activity calendar and learn more about the programs, activities and outings offered at Chartwell retirement residences.

View our infographic on how exercise can benefit the mental wellness of seniors.

About Allison Schindler

Allison is Chartwell’s National Director of Memory Living and Life Enrichment, and has been with the company for over eight years. She began as a consultant in long term care, and would go on to spearhead Chartwell’s unique Memory Living program for retirement residences. Allison has a BA in Recreation and Leisure Studies from the University of Waterloo, and over 24 years of experience in the health care and retirement living sector.