If you have ever moved to a new city or started at a new school, you will know the anxiety of having to make new friends and connections. Our residents experience the same fears when moving to a senior living community. No one wants to feel alone when moving somewhere new.
Loneliness in long term care settings are associated with many negative health outcomes like depression, insomnia, increased risk of early dementia onset, and increased mortality (1). That is why building social relationships when moving into a community is so important. One study actually found that being connected with outside family and friends had less effect on social wellbeing compared to positive relationships with fellow residents and staff (2). It can be difficult for some residents to create close relationships due to fear of losing these new friends to poor health or death. But still even casual relationships are shown to be beneficial (3).
Here are some examples and strategies to help your residents make connections and relationships in their new home
Before the resident moves in, get a bio on them about what they currently like, what they used to enjoy, and what their background and history is. You can use this information to brainstorm what current residents you could connect them with. Sometimes residents will move in and reconnect with long lost friends.
Start a welcome committee. Have a group of residents that are dedicated to helping you welcome a new resident. Many of the items on this list can be more effective if coming from someone that also lives in the community rather than the activity professional
Pair the new resident up with someone social with similar interests in the dining hall for their first meal. This is often one of the most intimidating experiences since you are walking into a huge room with a bunch of folks you don't know.
Invite new residents to activities. Be sure to give them the calendar/schedule and go over what events they might be interested in beforehand. Then before the activity, remind them and encourage them to come.
Get other staff members involved. Oftentimes care or dining staff will see the residents in different ways than the activity professionals. They can form a bond with the resident and help foster friendships between residents. These staff members can encourage residents to attend activities. One study actually found that the most meaningful relationships residents had were with staff members (3).
Get family members involved. If a new resident is hesitant to attend events, invite them to bring an already familiar face. Once they attend the first time with company, they might be more inclined to attend a second time by themselves.
Host occasional new resident socials. Invite both residents new and old to connect over coffee and cookies. Do a quick overview of important things they might need to know about the community, help answer any questions, and do some icebreakers to help everyone get to know each other.
During resident council, announce new residents that have moved in or will be moving in later in the month. If they are present at the meeting give them a warm introduction.
Where do you find new friendships blossom in your community? What do you do to make residents feel more welcome? Leave your answers in the comments.
Research sources on social relationships in senior living communities:
Brimelow, R. E., & Wollin, J. A. (2017). Loneliness in Old Age: Interventions to Curb Loneliness in Long-Term Care Facilities. Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 41(4), 301–315. https://doi.org/10.1080/01924788.2017.1326766
Street, D., Burge, S., Quadagno, J., & Barrett, A. (2007). The Salience of Social Relationships for Resident Well-Being in Assisted Living. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 62(2). https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/62.2.s129
Park, N. S., Zimmerman, S., Kinslow, K., Shin, H. J., & Roff, L. L. (2010). Social Engagement in Assisted Living and Implications for Practice. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 31(2), 215–238. https://doi.org/10.1177/0733464810384480