How important is social support as a person ages? This may seem like an easy question to answer. Most people would not choose isolation and loneliness versus spending time with companions. However, can lack of social support really hinder a person’s overall quality of life?
Lack of social support is related to negative impacts on health and wellbeing, especially for older people. Having a variety of positive social supports can contribute to psychological and physical wellness of elderly individuals. Support from others can be important in reducing stress, increasing physical health and defeating psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.
In a 1996 study published in Social Work Research, 695 elderly men and women were studied to determine the elasticity of their informal social support systems in response to their declining health. What they found was that social support for elderly people tends to slow down further deterioration of their health, confirming the beneficial effect of social support on elderly people’s health outcomes.
When considering who provides social support for an elderly individual our first thoughts are of family members. While it is true that most support does come from family members, there are many circumstances in which family members cannot be supportive (stress due to responsibilities, illness, death, financial problems, job relocation). In the United States the fastest growing age group of individuals are those 85 years and older. Due to this fact, family support will inevitably decrease for these older individuals. A need for community-based services is more important now than ever before.
Community-based services can be extremely useful for elderly individuals. Services for older persons can encompass many areas, but one of the most important areas is social support. Support for elderly persons can be found in many places including: senior centers, assisted living facilities, meal delivery, religious affiliations, adult day care centers, etc. These services can provide positive social supports that can help older persons defeat loneliness and isolation. However, social support must encompass more than physical presence or conversation. Studies have shown that social support services should contain quality activities. These activities should promote positive self-awareness.
Self-awareness is key to a person’s overall quality of life and satisfaction. Many social activities can be used to help increase an individual’s self-awareness. Activities for elderly individuals may include reminiscence groups, journal writing, readings of favorite book passages, group exercise, singing groups, etc. Individuals may also feel more self-satisfied if they are part of the planning of social activities that take place.
Two of these community-based service centers that provide quality social support services for elderly individuals are senior citizen centers and adult day care centers. Today, there are estimated to be about 15,000 senior centers across the United States. Senior centers act as a focal point for older Americans to receive many aging services. The most common services offered at a senior center include health programs (including Zumba and Yoga), arts/humanities activities, intergenerational programs, employment assistance, community action opportunities, transportation services, volunteer opportunities, education opportunities, financial assistance, senior rights counseling/legal services, travel programs and meal programs. These programs and activities can help promote positive self-awareness.
According to the National Adult Day Services Association (NADSA), there are currently more than 4,600 adult day care centers nationwide. Adult day care is a program in which activities are provided to promote social support and health services to an older adult during the daytime. Most centers operate Monday through Friday during daytime hours. Social support services at an adult day care can consist of musical entertainment and singing groups, group games such as cards, gentle exercise, discussion groups, holiday/birthday celebrations and local outings. Not only are these social activities provided, but participants of the program can also develop lasting relationships with staff and other participants. Adult day care centers also provide meals and health services. Adult day care centers differ from other programs for elderly individuals, because they allow the participants to develop and increase self-awareness by encouraging independence.
Adult Day Care Centers and Senior Citizen Centers help to provide an elderly individual the opportunity to participate in social support activities. Social support activities found in these programs can be beneficial to a person’s quality of life and overall satisfaction. With a higher self-awareness and quality of life an individual can reduce the risks of mental and physical health problems as they age.