Age and isolation are risk factors for depression.
That means that the social connections of community aren’t only about fun, although that’s important too; for many over 50, they’re literally a lifeline.
Community assuages the pain of loneliness. But many people don’t think about how important community is until their’s starts to crumble.
A Gateway To Meaningful Connections
After 50, adult children have likely moved away, and friends, neighbors, family members and colleagues retire, move, fall ill, or, through death or entropy, drop out of our lives. The troubling fact is that communities start to wane just when we need them the most.
And then there’s the big game changer: the change in marital status. It’s not just widowhood that speeds up the erosion of social networks. Divorce rates among seniors are at an all-time high, and many people find that in the aftermath, joining a new community helps them build a new life that may be many times happier than the old one.
That was the experience of Julie Cotton, 65, of Sarasota, Florida. “I’d been married my whole adult life,” she said. “Now I’m divorced and on my own. Many of the people I thought I could rely on disappeared. So I’m actively building new communities around writing, lifelong learning, and volunteering, even a new professional career.” A bonus: “Some new, close friendships are beginning to emerge, too.”
Another major game changer is moving. Donnabelle Acree, an 89-year-old widow, also from Sarasota, found this out when she recently switched from an independent living facility to an assisted living facility run by a different organization. “It’s as if I moved to another city,” she said. Except for the odd phone call or visit from the few friends who still have a car and can drive, Donnabelle left her previous residential and church communities behind, resulting in a big gap in her life. Joining new communities isn’t easy, she admits, “but it’s what it takes if I don’t want to be isolated.”
Obviously, one of the most important components of a satisfying later life is community.
Community can take many forms. It can be a workplace, a close-knit neighborhood, a house of worship, a social club or affinity group, a committee, or simply a clutch of friends who play cards together once a week. For many people, especially the ones who don’t live near relatives—or if they don’t have any relatives at all—these communities can take the place of extended families. Communities are a source of connection and care, activities and amusement. They also provide meaning, activities, structure and support.
So how do you get the most from your communities?
Next week: 6 Ways to Connect With Others After 50.
George H. Schofield, PhD is a business consultant, speaker and professor, specializing in organizational psychology and career development. His columns appear on Huffington Post 50+, PBS Next Avenue, Forbes.com and Marketwatch. Read our review of George Schofield’s, After 50 It’s Up To Us, his book which is packed with sage insights and advice.
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Last reviewed: 24 Sep 2013