How important is social support as a person ages? This may seem like an easy question to answer. Most people would not choose isolation and loneliness versus spending time with companions. However, can lack of social support really hinder a person’s overall quality of life?
Lack of social support is related to negative impacts on health and well being, especially for older people. Having a variety of positive social supports can contribute to psychological and physical wellness of elderly individuals. Support from others can be important in reducing stress, increasing physical health and defeating psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.
When considering who provides social support for an elderly individual our first thoughts are of family members. While it is true that most support does come from family members, there are many circumstances in which family members cannot be supportive (stress due to responsibilities, illness, death, financial problems, job relocation). In the United States the fastest growing age group of individuals are those 85 years and older. Due to this fact, family supports will inevitable decrease for these older individuals. A need for community-based services is more important now then ever before.
Community-based services can be extremely useful for elderly individuals. Services for older persons can encompass many areas, but one of the most important areas as discussed previously is social support. Support for elderly persons can be found in many places including: senior centers, assisted living facilities, meal delivery, religious affiliations, adult day care centers, etc. These services can provide positive social supports that can help older persons defeat loneliness and isolation. However, social support must encompass more then physical presence or conversation. Studies have shown that social support services should contain quality activities. These activities should promote positive self-awareness.
Self-awareness is key to a person’s overall quality of life and satisfaction. Many leisure social activities can be used to help increase an individual’s self-awareness. Activities for elderly individuals may include reminiscence groups, journal writing, readings of favorite book passages, group exercise, singing groups, etc. Individuals may also feel more self-satisfied if they are part of the planning of social activities that take place.
Two of these community-based service centers that provide quality social support services for elderly individuals are discussed below.
Senior Citizen Centers
Today, there are estimated to be about 15,000 senior centers across the United States. Senior centers act as a focal point for older Americans to receive many aging services. The most common services offered at a senior center include health programs (including Zumba and Yoga), arts/humanities activities, intergenerational programs, employment assistance, community action opportunities, transportation services, volunteer opportunities, education opportunities, financial assistance, senior rights counseling/legal services, travel programs and meal programs. These programs and activities can help promote positive self-awareness.
Lori Beckle describes how participating in her local senior citizens center has given her the independence and life satisfaction she thought was lost when her husband died in 2009. “ I was devastated and so frightened for my future without Ed. He was my only friend and the one I turned to when I felt alone. My daughter invited me to attend our local senior center where a bereavement group was being held for those who had lost a loved one. I met Phyllis during the group and now I have a new friend I call when I become afraid. Phyllis has helped me develop the skills to get through the tough times and focus on my immediate happiness.”
Adult Day Care Centers
According to the National Adult Day Services Association (NADSA), there are currently more than 4,600 adult day care centers nationwide. Adult day care is a program in which activities are provided to promote social support and health services to an older adult during the daytime. Most centers operate Monday through Friday during daytime hours. Social support services at an adult day care can consist of musical entertainment and singing groups, group games such as cards, gentle exercise, discussion groups (books, films, current events), holiday/birthday celebrations and local outings. Not only are these social activities provided, but participants of the program can also develop lasting relationships with staff and other participants. Adult day care centers also provide meals and health services. Adult day care centers differ from other programs for elderly individuals, because they allow the participants to develop and increase self-awareness by encouraging independence.
Amanda describes her experience as a volunteer at her local adult day care center. She stated, “ I was involved in planning the activities for Thursday afternoons. I wasn’t sure what kind of activities my older friends would enjoy so I had them share their favorite activities they participated in when they were my age (23). I soon realized that I was hearing the most fascinating stories of hopping trains, college dances, swimming in the lake, etc We decided Thursday afternoons would be spotlights of each individuals’ lives as a twenty-something. One of the participants told me that Thursdays became a highlight for her week.”
Adult Day Care Centers and Senior Citizen Centers help to provide an elderly individual the opportunity to participate in social support activities. Social support activities found in these programs can be beneficial to a person’s quality of life and overall satisfaction. With a higher self-awareness and quality of life an individual can reduce the risks of mental and physical health problems as they age.