Studies have shown that people who remain active and who interact with other people during old age live longer, happier, healthier lives. Volunteering, taking classes, joining social groups, engaging in hobbies, and pursuing some type of spiritual or religious practice are all ways of staying connected. Even people who are confined to their home because of illness can stay connected by having others visit them or by communicating over the telephone or by e-mail.
Volunteering allows older people to use skills and life experiences to contribute to the community and society. Hundreds of organizations across the United States welcome older volunteers. For example, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) and the Foster Grandparent Program provide volunteer opportunities in many communities. Opportunities are almost limitless and include
Being a life-long learner can be a very enjoyable and effective way of maintaining an active mind and of meeting and interacting with others who have similar interests. Many public school systems, colleges and universities, and municipalities offer continuing education classes for people of all ages as well as classes specifically developed with older adults in mind. Classes may range from practical topics (such as preparing tax returns, managing personal finances, or learning a new language) to more creative or entertaining topics (such as wine tasting and music appreciation).
Social Groups and Hobbies:
For older people, hobbies can help maintain social connections as well as mental and physical fitness. People may develop new hobbies or rediscover hobbies from earlier years. Although many hobbies can be done in solitude, engaging in a hobby with another person or with a group can be more interesting and stimulating. Hobbies that involve physical activity, such as gardening or sports, can be particularly beneficial to people's health.
Spirituality and Religion:
Spirituality and religion provide meaning, comfort, and a sense of belonging to many older people. Spirituality and religion are similar but not identical concepts. Religion is often associated with institutions, structure, and tradition, whereas spirituality is more associated with feelings, thoughts, and experiences. Most older people in the United States consider themselves both religious and spiritual.
Spirituality and religion may benefit older people in several ways:
A religious community is often the largest source of social support for older people outside of the family, and involvement in religious organizations is the most common type of voluntary social activity—more common than all other forms of voluntary social activity combined. For many older people, their religion provides a foundation that enables them to cope with health problems and stresses, such as loss of a spouse.
Last full review/revision December 2008 by Terrie Fox Wetle, MS, PhD