Connecting Through Small Groups: A Story
Last week, at the continuing care retirement community where I serve, the speaker for our senior class group that day called two minutes before class was to start and canceled. With a room full of residents waiting on the speaker, I told them she was unable to come. Rather than disbanding the group on that beautiful spring day, I suggested we talk about what the residents did as children in the spring. For the next forty, magical minutes, we talked about their spring activities as well as a variety of other topics.
We learned things about each other in those minutes that we never knew. The group laughed together. Residents talked about how similar life was for some and how different life had been for others. We talked about joyful times and the struggles we had along the way. For those who did not experience the Depression or WW II firsthand, we received a history lesson better than any found in books. The group listened respectfully to others when it was their turn to talk. They felt heard. We left feeling connected. No one felt alone. They parted as friends and talked about how wonderful the time together had been.
Connection Is Crucial for Older Adults
This story highlights how social interaction through small groups is beneficial to older adults. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) notes that, “several research studies have shown a strong correlation between social interaction and health and well-being among older adults.”
Being socially active as older adults helps the body, mind and soul in many ways. According to the St. Joseph Health website, being social as an older adult may help to reduce the “risk for cardiovascular problems, some cancers, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis; potentially reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease; lower blood pressure; reduced risk for mental health issues such as depression.”
Older Adults and the Effects of Isolation
The NIA article also discussed how detrimental isolation may be for older adults: “Social isolation constitutes a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality, especially in older adults.” These older adults may not be as active physically and may feel more depressed without someone to visit.
Older Adults — Get Connected!
In my work with older adults, I have discovered that in small groups, members look out for each other. When someone is not present, the group members ask about them. They check in on each other, especially if they have not seen someone in a few days. They prayer for each other. Residents celebrate joys together and grieve together in times of sorrow. I have witnessed residents who had been admitted from their home where they were isolated and not caring well for themselves become healthier in the presence of community. Small groups, I believe, are a vital part of living an abundant life for older adults. Small groups allow older adults to connect outside of self and to be a part of something bigger. Connection is key!
How do you stay connected? What small groups are you participating in? What small group opportunities do we provide for the older adults in our churches? How do we assist older adults in our churches/communities to get connected?