Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Older Americans Month: Powered by connection

Written by Michele Dinman, MPH, project coordinator for the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Happy Older Americans Month! For the past 60 years, the Administration for Community Living helps us celebrate and honor older Americans each May. This year’s theme, Powered by Connection, reminds us that meaningful relationships and social connections can positively affect our health and well-being. This is about more than having someone to chat with; it’s about using community engagement to improve our mental, physical, and emotional well-being. This can help reduce loneliness and isolation and promote healthy aging and aging in place. 

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community explains how important it is for us to form more relationships in our lives and become a more connected society. Here are some ways that they suggest we can do this.

Enhance your relationships by taking the time to reach out frequently and consistently to friends or family members and work on improving your engagement with them, such as improving the quality of time you spend with them. Stop checking your phone when you are sharing meals with friends or spending time with family. Try to limit activities that can cause disconnection from others such as excessive time in front of screens instead of people.

Form deeper connections with family, friends, and people in your community.  Many people have a hard time making new friends as they get older, but research has shown that having friends is strongly correlated with happiness, good mental health, and longevity in older people. If you are having a hard time making friends as you age, read these 12 tips that can help, or read this article on how to make and keep friendships. 

Participate in community service by finding ways to support your family members, friends, co-workers, or people in your community. Being responsive and supportive encourages others to reciprocate, which can strengthen and improve relationships. Also, staying engaged in your community by volunteering, working, mentoring, or being a positive and constructive participant in events such as town halls, school board meetings, or local government hearings can help you feel connected and involved. 

Connect with people who have diverse backgrounds and experiences which increases your understanding of people who are different from you.

Stay engaged in your community by volunteering, working, mentoring, or joining a social club to feel connected and involved, such as a fitness, religious, hobby, or professional organization, which can increase a sense of belonging, meaning and purpose. The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (CDC) explains why keeping socially engaged – participating in activities that keep you connected with people and your community – is good for your health and has a list of national organizations that can help.

Ask for help when you are feeling lonely or isolated by reaching out to a family member, friend, counselor, health care provider, or crisis line. When visiting your health care provider, be open about significant changes in your life so that they can provide resources that might prevent adverse health risks. Follow this link for resources that can provide support for older people experiencing isolation and loneliness.

This Older Americans Month, invite connection into your life by finding a new passion, taking a class, volunteering, or trying new activities in your community. Deepen your current friendships, meet some new people, make new friends, and discover new things about yourself. Become more involved in your community, discover deeper connections with your neighbors, and challenge your mind. Celebrate being older!