A group of seniors gathered to make friends at a retirement community

Retirement Living Guide: How to Make Friends at a Retirement Community

Bethesda Health | February 27, 2019

You have recently moved into a retirement community, and it is filled with people you haven’t met. Do you feel a bit intimidated? You have spent a lifetime making friends; are you supposed to start over with a new group of people?

The answer is yes, because forming friendships has positive benefits for you physically, mentally, and emotionally. But don’t take our word for it. Listen to Pooh.

Winnie the Pooh has had a lot to say about friendship over the years. Consider the following four quotes from Pooh.

1.  “You can’t stay in the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

OK, maybe meeting people is awkward at first, especially if you are an introvert, but your health and happiness are worth the effort.

Marie Bartels, Sales Counselor at Bethesda Terrace, a retirement community in South County, has a group of residents who help ease new residents through the period of adjustment to a new environment. “We call them our ‘Welcome Girls,” Marie says. “After a short settling in period, the girls will introduce themselves to new residents, answer questions, and make introductions to other residents. After that, new friendships begin to take off.”

The dining services staff members also keep an eye out for new residents who are dining alone. “It’s very important that new residents don’t remain isolated,” Marie says. “Many have recently lost a spouse, and they are looking for friendships to make life fun again. They just need some encouragement.” The staff will ask if they want some company and if the answer is yes, they find a compatible resident to dine with them.”

If you’re new to a retirement community, leave your room. Find out what activities are available. Dine out, introduce yourself to a few people. Spend some time in the common areas and greet people. Discover what group activities and hobbies you can pursue that will put you in contact with others. Does the retirement community have clubs? What outings does it provide? These are all opportunities for conversations and shared experiences that can form the basis for friendship.

Marie says that Bethesda Terrace’s common and activity areas are a great place to get involved with others. Card games, Wii bowling, and bingo are favorites.  Activities also include weekly happy hours, live music, and trips outside the community to restaurants, the St. Louis Science Center, The Muny Opera, a local casino, and, during the Christmas holidays, excursions to see Christmas decorations. Every activity is an opportunity to form new friendships.

“Some people take two to four weeks before they are ready to mingle, but I’ve never had anyone who doesn’t come out of their apartment eventually,” Marie says. “Our residents are so good at patiently working with them.”

2. “It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like ‘What about lunch?’”

By using the suggestions above, you will most likely find someone you have something in common with— hobbies, life history, books, music, activities like walking, or volunteering. You may discover new interests or rekindle your pursuit of an activity you have neglected for years. Whatever the case, it will be much more enjoyable with people who care about you. Marie notes that the Activity Director at Bethesda Terrace listens to the wishes for activities and outings among residents and does her best to accommodate them.

Often people lack the motivation or confidence to start up a conversation. Don’t underestimate yourself. Keep in mind you have had a lifetime of experiences. There are bound to be people who have something in common with you.  Be confident. The more comfortable you are with yourself, the easier it will be to make new friends.

If you put yourself out there, you will discover there are many fun people with whom you can spend an enjoyable lunch or dinner. “In their house, the TV may have become their best friend and companion because they had no one else,” says Marie. “When they come to Bethesda Terrace, we want their lives filled with activities and real friends.”

3. “If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”

You’ve been on both ends of an ear-fluff conversation—the one when the person wasn’t listening to you, and the other when you weren’t listening to the person talking to you.

If you want to form a good rapport with people, actively listen to them. Follow up with questions that demonstrate you heard what was said. If you show an interest in a person, they are more likely to reciprocate by being interested in what you have to say.

4. “It’s so much more friendly with two.”

Good advice, but don’t limit yourself to one friend. Studies have shown that having a wide circle of friends improves psychological wellbeing and physical health. Some sources have pointed to a decrease in the development of dementia among people with robust social networks and daily contact with friends and family. Life is much better when you are not alone.

Marie notes that Bethesda Terrace has a beautiful back yard, with a gazebo, waterfall, and fountain. Family and friends are always welcome to visit. “Sometimes having family there makes residents more comfortable in interacting with other residents,” says Marie. “I believe some people hang back because they have been a bit introverted all their lives, so they need that confidence boost of caring people around them.”

Marie also listens closely to the comments of new residents and asks veteran residents to include them in activities to help the new residents build a network of relationships.

At Bethesda, we understand the importance of socialization for seniors. Our communities throughout the St. Louis area offer and engaging lifestyle for older adults looking to stay active and make new friends. Schedule a tour at a community near you to learn more.

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