Struggling to keep up the social networks later in life? There’s plenty of inspiration to get you started.

With major life changes come changes to our social circumstances. This could mean moving out of full-time work, changing of a living situation, or requiring more athome care. You or your loved one will also undoubtedly feel the change in how your social life pans out. In order to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness, and make sure we and our loved ones are staying connected, get involved in social activities.

Studies show that increased participation in social activities – even something as simple as visiting friends and family – will slow the rate of cognitive decline in older adults.

Beyondblue also found that the number of Australians feeling lonely is increasing over time, and those in their later years are even more susceptible to those feelings of isolation – but it doesn’t have to become an inevitable part of getting older! While on the surface these can seem like simply a fun way to fill the hours, there are documented health benefits as well.

Those with strong social connections:

  • report better quality of life and satisfaction with their life
  • have delayed progression of dementia and mental decline
  • need less domestic support and enjoy greater independence.

Clubs and activities

If you’re on the hunt for a club or activity to get involved in that is low impact and easy to access, there are plenty of options out there. Consider what they’ll enjoy most – are they sporty, or more into gardening or crafts – as well as the level of mobility required.

For those struggling with physical impairments or a decrease in mobility, simply getting out of the house will be enough to challenge their level of physical activity, while those who are more mobile might want to take part in something that keeps them on their feet for an extended period of time.

No matter the club, at the end of the day one of the most important things is really the social connections that are made, as opposed to the number of steps taken or calories burned.

Which activity is best?

Before you start researching an activity for yourself or a loved one, it’s a good idea to have a think about the kinds of things that interest them, and what they’re hoping to get out of the activity. There are also logistical considerations to make. Here, we’ve got some talking points to get the conversation started:

  • How far are you willing to travel for the activity? Does it need to be walking distance away?
  • How many hours do you want to spend on this each week?
  • Do you want this to be a solo activity, or something in a group setting?
  • Would you prefer something more creative, or something physical?
  • Do you want to give back to the community, or learn something new for yourself?
  • Do you have a budget in mind, or would you prefer a free activity?

Ten activities to get started

Do any of these sound like they would fit the bill?

  1. Sports programs – while getting your daily steps in is a great way to keep moving, if your preference is to hit the gym, there are plenty of low-impact programs out there that are better suited to someone starting to slow down. For example, YMCA offers the Pryme Movers, which is targeted at older gymgoers and is ideal not only to break a sweat, but also to meet others doing the same.
  2. Probus – as a worldwide organisation, Probus started back in 1965 for retired and semi-retired professionals. In Australia, Probus clubs comprise over-55s who usually meet monthly for a couple of hours. These meetings generally feature a special guest speaker followed by the organising of activities, cruises, trips, picnics, events, fundraisers and get-togethers.
  3. The Men’s Shed – this is a not-for-profit organisation where blokes come together to work on a range of projects while speaking about what’s on their mind. With more than 1,000 ‘sheds’ across Australia, members do everything from making furniture to restoring bikes and fixing lawn mowers. If you’re concerned your dad might be struggling with life post-retirement, this is a great place to start.
  4. Studying – for those who haven’t lost their love of learning, Open Universities and the University of the Third Age (U3A) offer courses through universities across Australia. Open Universities Australia allows you to enrol in universities all over Australia entirely online, so it’s perfect for those living in more rural areas and those who aren’t able to travel to and from a physical campus.
  5. Sing Australia – as a national organisation, Sing Australia has 150 groups around Australia. No matter the quality of your set of pipes, you can join Sing Australia without an audition. It’s perfect for someone who loves to sing, but wouldn’t be winning any karaoke competitions anytime soon!
  6. Crafting – from crochet to scrapbooks, crafting is ideal for someone who is feeling creative and wants to create a keepsake. Get onto Facebook or visit your local community centre to see what’s available – there’ll be groups that suit those more experienced crafters, and those wanting to try something out for the first time.
  7. Gardening – With more than 600 clubs throughout Australia, Garden Clubs of Australia is an umbrella organisation to get involved with. Otherwise, check around to see if there is a community garden to join and be able to meet likeminded lovers of the outdoors.
  8. Tai Chi – becoming more popular in Australia, Tai Chi is a great way to meet new people and also get in some lowimpact exercise that’ll keep joints and muscles happy. Often referred to as ‘meditation in motion’, Tai Chi is an actvity that combines awareness of the body, mindfulness, visualisation and relaxation. So, if your loved one feel stressed or agitated, Tai Chi is an opportunity to feel mentally and physically grounded.
  9. Volunteering – social activities can also include giving back to the local community through volunteering with a charity or organisation that you care about. This could be anything from Australian Red Cross to working with a wildlife organisation that helps rehabilitate local animals. The opportunities are endless, as is the rewarding feeling you’ll get afterwards!
  10. Museum and gallery group tours – for those with an interest in arts and culture, museums like the National Gallery of Victoria run group tours throughout the day, and these can be led by volunteers who share that passion for the arts.

Now what?

How to encourage your loved ones to get social.

  1. Start small - If they can’t decide on an activity, pick some within their comfort zone to try out.
  2. Get researching. Encourage your loved ones to use the list above as a starting point, so they can figure out the kind of activity they’d like to try.
  3. Go local - If you’re starting with online research and hitting dead ends, try heading to your local council or community centre for inspiration instead.
  4. Make a plan - Pencil time into the diary or book a class so that they have something to look forward to.
  5. Rally the troops - Keeping your wider network of family and friends aware of what’s happening will help them to be more proactive about getting your parents more involved in social activities, when possible.
  6. Keep trying - You don’t want your loved one to feel disheartened if something doesn’t quite go the way they expected. If an activity wasn’t quite right for them, push them to try something new so they don’t lose momentum.
  7. Share successes - From a simple phone call to see how the activity went, to bringing it up during conversation with your extended family, celebrating their getting out and about will help to encourage them so they continue to do so.