Virtual social activities lessened the mental toll of the COVID-19 pandemic by allowing people to stay connected without having to be in the same space. But just because pandemic restrictions are winding down doesn’t mean that socializing in a virtual space needs to go away as well.
In fact, virtual social activities make it easier for seniors with mobility issues or weakened immune systems to stay engaged with people without having to worry about getting to a specific location or be exposed to potentially harmful germs.
Benefits of virtual events
Humans are wired to be social. Even introverts require social interaction to remain healthy. A large body of research has found that social interaction helps relieve stress, provides protection against cognitive decline and dementia, and can even help prevent infections and cancer recurrence.
When it comes to seniors specifically, a recent study in Scotland found that virtual social events provided positive benefits for seniors dealing with dementia. The study found “online events do boost attendees’ sense of well-being; build confidence; and establish a newfound appreciation for leisure activities and hobbies.”
Another study found that having a larger number of people to interact with virtually improved mental well-being during a time when physical interaction wasn’t possible.
If you or a senior loved one has difficulty getting out and about, virtual social events can be the perfect solution to help maintain connection with others. Not only can virtual interactions benefit a senior’s physical and mental health in meaningful ways, they can also lessen the isolation for those who are homebound.
Finding virtual events
The great thing about socializing virtually is you’re not limited to just local options. You can participate in a book club with people in other parts of the country or play games with people all over the world.
But how do you find those virtual events that match your loved one’s interests?
- Check with your local library and community center – Many libraries and community centers offer free or inexpensive virtual programs for a variety of ages. Check their websites to see if an organization near you has online programs available.
- Browse meetup sites for virtual events – Sites like Eventbrite and Meetup provide listings of virtual events your older adult can take part in—including many free options. Just be sure to set your filters to show online events.
- Consider virtual volunteering opportunities – If you want to spend some of your time giving back to others, check out some virtual volunteer opportunities. A great place to start is AARP’s Create the Good website where you can search for a specific interest or simply browse the opportunities. Just be sure to click the “Show only home/remote opportunities” box.
- Take an interactive class – Another great option for seniors looking for some socialization while they learn something new is to sign up for a class. Check out AARP’s Senior Planet classes or other organizations like Virtual Senior Academy that offer live classes where you or your loved one can interact with other people during the class.
Organize a virtual event
If you’re looking to engage seniors with a virtual event, keep a few things in mind:
- Have clearly defined goals for your event – Is your event centered around a game or specific topic? Do you want to teach something, or is your goal to foster interaction? How you answer those questions will define how you set up your event.
- Choose the right time for your event – If you’re targeting a local population, plan your event around times that work best in your area. However, if you want to draw people from all over, then choose a time that works in most time zones.
- Promote your event – Figure out how to reach your target audience. You may want to put a listing for your event on Meetup and other event websites.
- Be prepared to troubleshoot technology problems – Some seniors are technologically savvy, but others may struggle to figure out how to deal with the virtual platforms. It’s a good idea to have someone designated to deal with technology issues.
- Promote engagement – You can promote participation in the virtual space by asking questions and even breaking people into smaller groups in private “rooms.”
- Be flexible – A virtual event is different from an in-person event, and it can be difficult to gauge interest and engagement. Be prepared to change things up if it doesn’t seem like what you had originally planned is meeting the goals you set.
Learn the tools
Virtual events are a great way to engage homebound seniors, but for them to participate, they have to be able to use the technology.
Before your event, consider providing links to participants to a tutorial for the platform you’ve chosen to host the event. This gives everyone a chance to familiarize themselves with it before the event and will hopefully cut down on technology-related issues:
Virtual events can keep seniors engaged with a community by providing social interaction, a sense of purpose and a chance to learn new skills. Staying connected with others is vital to maintaining both physical and mental health, especially as we age, so don’t hesitate to check out some virtual options.