By Haley Burress United States
As Activity Professionals, we have already seen first hand the benefits our residents experience when they are socially connected with others.
However, now scientists are publishing research that documents what we’ve been watching for years. Two things are certain: socialization with peers is imperative for healthy aging, and Activity Professionals are the key to making it happen.
When you think about your best friend and the memories you have together, you probably end up with a smile on your face. Friendships are important to all of us, especially our residents. Unfortunately, our residents sometimes arrive at senior living communities after a series of losses and transitions. Often, their best friend has passed away, moved away, or is otherwise absent from their lives. This can cause feelings of loneliness, sadness, and even anxiety.
Friendships are crucial relationships in our lives and in the lives of our residents. Friendships provide many benefits such as:
As new residents move in, the Activity team begins to get to know them immediately through assessments and informal conversations in order to better connect them with others in the community. However, not all residents are ready to forge new friendships upon admission or even after years of living in the community.
Potential barriers to forming new friendships can include:
While you and your team cannot force people to become friends, even when you just know they would get along splendidly, you can create ways for residents to connect. Here are a few ways to boost your friend matchmaking skills:
1. Offer plenty of shared experiences.
The good news is that friendships typically begin over a shared experience, and activities are the perfect shared experience for residents to share. Make sure your calendar is full of opportunities that cater to the wide variety of residents you serve. Keep your calendar balanced, offering a nice mix of large group and small group events.
2. Build a culture of Clubs.
Friendships can also start over a shared love of a specific hobby, pursuit, or interest. You can cultivate these connections by increasing the number of Clubs offered at your community. Not only are Clubs a great way to empower residents and honor their interests, but you can also end up creating a new way for friendships to form. Try any number of Clubs that suit your residents’ interests:
Not sure what types of Clubs to start at your community? Bring it up at Resident Council as well as reviewing your resident assessments. Look for common threads, especially with residents who are not big fans of group activities.
3. Encourage socialization with new people.
Throwing socials and events are an excellent way to connect residents, but if they only sit with the same people, in the same spot, they may not get a full social experience. Try to increase the socialization by switching up the seating so that residents can sit with someone new at socials, exercise groups, or even on trips.
4. Host invite-only small groups.
You might know that three residents share a similar personality and history, making them a friendship waiting to happen. However, how can you gather these three specific residents together to start the process? Try hosting invitation-only small groups where you (or your staff member) stays with the group to facilitate conversation and serve refreshments. Don’t put these gatherings on your group activity calendar, but ensure they are a weekly part of your staff’s responsibilities.
5. Get the conversation going.
When connecting residents who may not know one another well, be sure you stick around to facilitate positive conversation. You can start up conversations by using reminiscing questions or pointing out shared hobbies or interests. If the conversation between residents is moving along without too much help, you can excuse yourself and let the conversation continue.
6. Make your community conversation-friendly.
Friendships and connections are most likely to happen during quieter times in your community. Make sure your community has plenty of nooks and areas where residents feel welcome to gather and perhaps strike up a conversation with others. Situate chairs and tables to accommodate residents who may pass by and make a few natural gathering spots by offering a coffee station and reading materials. While you are making cosy conversation-friendly areas, don’t forget the outside spaces of your community too!
7. Give potential friends shared projects to work on together.
If you have a few residents who could end up as friends, consider giving them a project to work on together. Have them label envelopes for the community or decorate the doors of new residents - you may be surprised how their shared service project creates a friendship.
8. Know when to back off.
Sometimes you may be certain a few residents could be friends but it just isn’t happening. Remember, you can’t force a friendship by pushing the issue. Instead, know when to stop your matchmaking efforts before you become a nuisance.
Tell me about your success stories of when you created a new friendship between residents. I love to hear those stories!