Human beings are inherently social creatures. Spending time with and receiving validation from others is important to us. This is especially true as we encounter many of life's transitions.
As we get older, we can expect to encounter physical decline. Although our social networks may become stronger with age, they often become smaller. As we enter the middle and later stages of our life, finding a support group that works for you can be helpful! It can also be good for your health, well-being, and quality of life.
For starters, here are a few ways attending support groups can benefit you:
- Socializing and fostering new friendships
- Strengthen your ability and confidence to age in place
- Become aware of community support
- Prepare for a situation or what's to come
- Help others going through what you’ve been through
Here are some tips to help you get started on your support group search.
1. Senior centers
Visit or call your local senior center! Senior centers are focal points of information, resources, activities, and support. They also often hold support groups at their physical space. Some common types of support groups at senior centers include caregiver support, dementia support, or death support groups.
There are also plenty of opportunities to get involved socially with interest groups or retirement hobbies. Ask staff or attendees of the senior center about current support group offerings. You can also peruse their calendar of events. If nothing resonates with you, ask about other supports within the community. They may be open to starting a new group, especially if you are willing to lead it.
2. Social media
Social media is a great social support tool. And there may be more opportunities to connect with people than you realize! Middle-aged and older adults make up the largest percentage of Facebook users. There are many features of Facebook that can work to your benefit as it applies to support groups.
There are actual groups (both private and public). These can be great outlets to connect with other people sharing similar experiences. Many of these groups have discussion boards where you can post a topic or question to the group. Or you can respond to other people’s comments or insights. Consider exploring other social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, or Linkedin, too.
3. Meetup groups
Meetup groups are a great way to form connections on a shared interest or hobby. While some groups may be for all ages, there are often groups specifically for older adults. Or those that surround issues experienced by aging individuals.
Another benefit of meetup groups is that they are typically rather informal. So there isn’t the pressure of having to go around the room and share, if that’s not your style.
Meetup groups also have discussion boards or contact information for the group leader. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t be afraid to reach out or post a question on the board. You may even want to ask some group members about their experiences and what they get from attending.
4. Local library
Libraries aren’t just places for reading and books! Your local library is another great resource. Not only are support groups held in these spaces, but so are helpful information sessions, too.
Many libraries offer interactive classes or workshops surrounding particular topics. And librarians may be willing to develop other programming efforts for the future. Sometimes they even offer exercise classes such as gentle yoga or stretching.
5. Fitness centers and gyms
Ask your gym if there are any classes for older adults or particular health conditions. Groups like yoga for arthritis or cancer survivorship are great opportunities for support. Fitness classes are especially important because they focus on physical activity. Some other examples for older persons include chair yoga, tai chi, or meditation.
Besides the gym you belong to, look into other clubs and organizations! Some fitness centers offer reduced fees or classes to seniors. Others may have groups that meet outside the gym such as a walking club. Local universities with fitness centers are also worth looking into.
6. Long-term care facilities
Many support groups exist across the continuum of long-term care. Places such as assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and independent living communities.
A common misconception is that these groups are strictly for people who live there. However, there are many groups open to outsiders and community members. Some common groups may include grief and bereavement, depression, and Alzheimer’s/dementia. Check out which types of organizations are in your area and see what exists near you.
7. Lifelong learning programs
Lifelong learning programs are among many fun things to do in retirement. They can also be a great source of social support and connection.
Lifelong learning programs bring people together based on mutual interest. They may also call themselves adult education centers. These programs take place in many ways, shapes, or forms. They are structured as in-person classes, special interest group meetings, and brown bag discussions. Some even organize group outings and field trips.
It’s always fun to take classes that you choose and that spark your interest! While learning a new skill or hobby you can also connect and get support from those you interact with.
8. Consult with your primary care physician
If you’re seeking support for a specific health-related matter, talk with your PCP. Or, if you are undergoing surgery, consult with your surgeon or the hospital staff.
When it comes to surgery, chemo, or rehab, there are often classes offered right at the hospital. Some of these support groups may be for things like breast or prostate cancer, even knee replacement or hip surgery.
9. Neighborhood and community groups
Neighborhood groups vary across geographic regions. However, there are many options you may want to consider. Maybe your neighborhood has a civic association (or several). Perhaps there is a village or neighborhood naturally occurring retirement community (NORC) nearby that you could join or inquire about resources.
There are many models that support neighbors helping neighbors. There are even online community “neighborhood” groups as well.
10. The Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer’s Association is full of resources. Believe it or not, these resources aren't just about Alzheimer’s/dementia. There are local chapter organizations you can join. Even by attending the walk, you can connect with vendors and organizations in aging.
Besides specific support groups, check out books on aging and movies they recommend. It may inspire you! Don't hesitate to reach out to your local chapters. Find out what options are available to you and how you can become involved. You may also want to pursue volunteer opportunities.
Finding the Right Fit
It may be overwhelming to sift through all the options that may be available to you. But, the above recommendations are a good place to start! You may not know exactly what you are looking for, and that’s okay too.
Each support group is different. There may be different components of these groups that you like or dislike. Pay attention to aspects that you like or dislike or factors that you are looking for. This will help inform your decision and find the right fit for you!
- Pfeil, U., Zaphiris, P., & Wilson, S. (2009). Older adults’ perceptions and experiences of online social support. Interacting with computers, 21(3), 159-172.
- Barak, A., Boniel-Nissim, M., & Suler, J. (2008). Fostering empowerment in online support groups. Computers in human behavior, 24(5), 1867-1883.
- Gottlieb, B. H. (2000). Self-help, mutual aid, and support groups among older adults. Canadian Journal on Aging/La Revue canadienne du vieillissement, 19(S1), 58-74.
- Filinson, R. (2018). Self help and family support groups. In Psychological therapies for the elderly (pp. 101-123). Routledge.
- Czaja, S. J., Sharit, J., Boot, W. R., Charness, N. H., & Rogers, W. A. (2017). The role of technology in supporting social engagement and social support among older adults. Innovation in Aging, 1(Suppl 1), 1026.