Local experts weigh in on why socializing as people age is so important.
It’s a Friday afternoon and music starts to waft throughout Friendship Center Sarasota.
A couple starts to dance as the band taps the drums and harps on the trumpet.
Friendship Center CEO Erin McLeod looks on with a smile.
“They come to just be together with somebody,” McLeod said. “The guys in the band — they have a purpose. They’re there to entertain everybody.”
It’s that sense of purpose and belonging that’s important as people age.
“Studies keep showing how important it is not just to combat depression or help prevent it, but that it’s for brain health because you need to be interacting with other human beings and doing things to keep your brain working and moving and healthy,” Executive Director of The Paradise Center Suzy Brenner said.
Brother William Geenen, founder of the Friendship Centers, coined the phrase “isolation and loneliness are the malnutrition of aging.” McLeod said it’s important that people take care of their social networks just like they take care of their bodies, whether their social network is church or neighbors or a bridge group.
“You need to be brave to go to a new place at any age and be in a physical space that you’ve never been to before with people you’ve never met. It can be intimidating,” Brenner said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are.”
Brenner recognizes that everyone is different, so not everyone enjoys the same activities. But as she sees it, any type of socialization will be worthwhile whether it's playing bridge, watching a movie or exercising.
“There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to people who are alone and who are feeling depressed because it’s very common, especially in seniors who have lost their core social group,” Brenner said.
Brenner said studies show that when people aren’t contributing to society or don’t feel like a part of the world, their self worth starts to decline.
As a child, one’s world opens up and gets bigger through getting a driver's license and a job. As one ages, life gets narrower. Their keys are taken away, they stop working, or a spouse dies.
“Their mind focuses inward,” McLeod said. “They start to focus on all the things about themselves that either disappoints [them] or on aches and pains, fears, and that’s not a good place to be.”
Socializing doesn’t have to be expensive, either. People don’t need to join a club. Making groups out of neighbors can go a long way.
“That’s your social networking that will sustain you through loss and the shrinking of your world. But nobody likes to talk about that stuff because it’s scary,” McLeod said. “You don’t want to think it’ll ever happen to you, or you think it will never happen to you.”
Much like elementary school, there are shy people who aneed a little push to be social, McLeod said.
“The one thing they all have in common is they need other people, and it was just like that in kindergarten, and it was like that in high school, and it’s just like that when you’re in your 80s,” McLeod said.
And for friends who don’t want to watch their loved ones isolate themselves, it might take awhile to get them into a crowd.
“I think just be consistent and gentle and let them know you’re there," McLeod said. "If they won’t go out out, go to them and pick up Panera and go to them, take a DVD and pop it in, and take them to the movies at their own house,” McLeod said.
Friendship Center Sarasota
Takes place from 10 a.m. to noon every Monday at Friendship Center Sarasota, 1888 Brother Geenen Way. The social group discusses life,current events and more. Call 955-2122.
Live Music and Dancing
Every day from 1 to 3 p.m. at Friendship Center Sarasota, 1888 Brother Geenen Way.
Takes place everyday from 11:45 to 12:30 p.m. at Friendship Center Sarasota, 1888 Brother Geenen Way. With a suggested donations of $3, people can enjoy a nutritious buffet style lunch. Menus can be found online at friendshipcenters.org.
Classes take place every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Friendship Center Sarasota, 1888 Brother Geenen Way.
The Paradise Center
Shifting Sands Support Group
Takes place from 3 to 4:30 p.m. every Thursday in the Ruth Cushing Room of Longboat Island Chapel, 6200 Gulf of Mexico Drive. Call 383-6491.
Mah Jongg for Beginners
Takes place every Tuesday from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. at The Paradise Center, 6200 GMD. Learn how to play Mah jongg or work on beginner-level skills. Cost is $10 per class with snacks provided. Call 383-6493.
Zumba and Mat Pilates for Seniors Combo
Takes place every Thursday from 10-11 a.m. at The Paradise Center, 6200 Gulf of Mexico Drive. The class, designed for active seniors, starts with Zumba and shifts to all-level mat Pilates at 10:30 a.m. Work core strength and endurance with a series of slow, controlled movements and stretches. Cost is $10. RSVP to 383-6493.
Intermediate Bridge Sessions
Takes place every Friday from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at The Paradise Center, 6200 Gulf of Mexico Drive. The sessions include a fun, relaxed step-by-step approach to upgrading skills. Cost is $10. RSVP to [email protected] or call 383-6493.
The Bingo Club meets the second Wednesday of every month at the Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd. Play starts at 1 p.m. and nine games are played. Prizes for each game are gift cards donated by local merchants.
The Lakewood Ranch Genealogical Club meets first Monday of the month at 7 p.m. from November through April at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd. Genealogist Donna Moughty leads the sessions For information, call Nancy Johnson at 752-9819, or email [email protected].
The Genealogical Society of Sarasota meets the second Saturday of each month October through May at 10 a.m. for light refreshments and 10:30 a.m. for the program at the Selby Library, 1331 First Street, Sarasota. For information, visit gssfl.com