As discussed in a previous blog, the benefits of social interaction continue well into old age. A socially-active senior can expect to experience fewer hospital admissions, a reduced cost of social care, an increase in physical health, and an increase in confidence compared to more isolated peers.

One of the risk factors for social isolation is living alone.  After a spouse or partner passes away, an elder may be left alone for long hours or even days in his or her private home.  This can be a tipping point for making a move to a residential facility:  living in a communal environment with others of similar age offers many more opportunities for social interaction and making new friends.

A few nursing homes and most assisted living facilities provide residents with a lifestyle that facilitates social interaction. The stereotype of elders who do nothing more than wait for their grandchildren to visit, knit, and watch soap operas all day is one that is fading fast. These days, facilities offer a wide variety of daily activities that allow elders to engage in meaningful interactions with other residents such as movie nights, karaoke, board games, religious gatherings, yoga, exercise, group walks, cooking classes, and crafting.

How to choose the facility with the most opportunity for socialization

When it is time for an elder to transition to facility living, finding answers to the following questions may help in selecting the best fit for enhancing both physical and emotional health.

Does the facility provide residents with a calendar of events?

When touring each facility, inquire about their monthly event schedule and make sure it shows sufficient variety to keep your loved one busy and active. You should also ask to speak with the activities or recreation director about the social opportunities that your loved one might be interested in.

Does the facility’s layout encourage independent socialization?

While on your tour, take note of the facility’s layout. Is there a common area where elders can gather with other residents outside of their rooms? Is there a safe outdoor space where residents can visit and enjoy fresh air? A busy activities schedule is not the only indicator of a facility that supports socialization. Comfortable common areas can help residents take advantage of the community aspect of living in a facility.

Does the facility provide assistance to residents to and from activities?

If your loved one is not fully ambulatory, is cognitively impaired, or is somewhat shy, ask how much physical assistance, direction, or encouragement the facility offers. Planned activities or accessing public gathering areas can quickly become useless if your loved one does not receive the help they need to attend activities or participate socially with other residents.  This question might be one of the most important ones you ask because an elder who is left alone in his or her room is at immediate risk of becoming isolated.

Socialization is a critical part of life, and the need for social interaction does not decrease with age. A socially-active elder can expect to experience a healthier, happier life than an elder who is left alone. The transition to facility living does not have to be another risk factor associated with isolation.  In fact, this transition can be a positive one, offering the elder more social opportunities than he or she would have experienced while living in a private home. By considering a few simple questions as you tour prospective facilities, you can guarantee that you choose the new home that will offer the most to the one you love.