Age-Friendly Discussion Groups: Social Participation

Staying Engaged at Any Age
July 1, 2018 at 12:00 a.m. …by Christina Clem, AARP Washington

This article is brought to you by AARP Washington

There’s a difference between being lonely and being alone. Some of us thrive on quiet, solitary reflection but, as social animals, our brains are hardwired for social interaction. So, what happens when our ability to stay engaged and active in social life becomes more complicated? Too long in this scenario and we begin to feel cut off from our community.

To the World Health Organization, social participation is one feature that cities, counties and states should focus on to foster livable communities for all ages. They believe “participating in social activities in the community allows older people to continue to exercise their competence and maintain or establish supportive and caring relationships.”

“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need – crucial to both well-being and survival,” reported Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology at Brigham Young. “Yet an increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly.”

How can we tell if a friend or family member is affected by isolation and loneliness?, in collaboration with the AARP Foundation, is a web-based resource with tools to help people evaluate their risk for isolation, reach out to others who may be feeling lonely and disconnected, and find practical ways to reconnect with the community. (206-870-4266) is dedicated to ending loneliness in the lives of seniors. The Washington Warm Line (1-877- 500-9276) is a peer support help line for people experiencing loneliness, depression and other life difficulties.

No one wants to become irrelevant. We want to feel welcome at our community events. How can we improve these gatherings to make them available to a wider audience? While limited mobility, hearing loss or cognitive decline may make it a little more challenging to keep up socially, steps can be taken to ensure older adults have options to interact and thrive no matter their age.

During the planning phase, event organizers can make a few changes to ensure events are inclusive to all ages and abilities. Age Friendly Seattle produced a guide called Meeting the Needs of People with disAbilities, which cites four basic accessibility considerations to help make an event easier to attend. They include adequate and accessible public transportation stops nearby, accessible parking spots, a clearly identified area to drop off and pick up attendees, and ADA compliant restrooms.

People with hearing loss can learn of resources through the Hearing Loss Association of America (, including chapter and support meetings that are open to visitors in Renton (253- 631-2345) and Tacoma (360- 871-0997).

While an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can make outings more challenging, local groups are taking steps to ensure that people with memory loss can get out and participate. Momentia is a grassroots movement empowering people with memory loss and their loved ones to remain connected and active in their community. Momentia promotes programs, social activities and events throughout the Puget Sound region that occur in safe, supportive community venues like libraries, theaters, museums and cafes. Designed to provide opportunities to leave the dementia diagnosis at home for a while, activities like art, walking programs and drumming circles encourage people to come together for support and friendship outside of a medical setting.

A collective effort supported by a variety of community members and organizations, has a long list of activities for area residents hosted by a variety of collaborators. “The programs capitalize on the strengths of people with dementia,” says Marigrace Becker at the UW Medicine Memory and Brain Wellness Center, who helps bring the Momentia concept to new communities. “Having opportunities to stay connected and stay engaged in things that bring you joy and meaning is so important.”

In addition to positive outcomes for those who attend, these events also help battle negative perceptions of aging and stigma about dementia by connecting with communities and local businesses. One popular example is the Alzheimer’s Café – a regular social gathering at a coffee shop or restaurant, with good food, fun and sharing among participants. Alzheimer’s Cafes currently take place in King, Snohomish, Pierce and Thurston counties and typically meet on the same day and time each month. For a list, visit

Volunteering is a great way to make connections in your community. The Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) connects people 55 and older to volunteer opportunities ( or 206-694-6786).

Many are passionate about intergenerational volunteering, bringing older adults and school age kids together to share and learn from each other. Generation to Generation Seattle ( or 425-753- 5600) is part of a national campaign designed to help those over 50 find ways to improve the lives of children and youth who need a champion in their corner. Volunteer opportunities include mentoring and tutoring students, becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, and working with youth at art workshops.

“Older adults are a large, untapped asset,” said Gen2Gen Seattle campaign director Jim McGinley. “They bring a wealth of experience and capability” to nonprofit organizations.

There are many more opportunities to get out and about in the community. Check out your local senior center for activities that foster social connections. Libraries often provide inclusive programs for all ages. Local parks and recreation departments and the YMCA offer healthy activities and outings. Faith-based groups are also a good resource for connecting with friends new and old.

Whatever is your preferred way to get out in the community, stay engaged! It’s good for your health and happiness.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is your favorite way to stay active and engaged with others?
  2. What support do you need to make it easier to get out of the house and socialize with others?
  3. What do you wish your city, neigh¬borhood, community knew about plan¬ning events that welcome older adults?
  4. Have you volunteered in the past? What were your feelings about volunteering?
  5. Have you, a family member or a friend experienced social isolation? How was the problem resolved?
  6. How often do you reach out and invite a friend or loved one to socialize? What are those experiences like?

Age-Friendly Discussion Groups

Do you have a group to discuss topics of interest to the 50+ crowd? Look for this feature in every issue of Northwest Prime Time, brought to you by AARP Washington, King County Library System, and Aging and Disability Services–the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle/King County.

Don’t have your own group? Kitchen Table Talks: On July 17 from 1-2 pm, Age Friendly Seattle will host another lively monthly conversation about age-friendly communities. This discussion opportunity is open to all. You can call in from anywhere, 206-386-1200 or toll-free 1-844-386-1200 (when prompted, enter code 607361) or visit (when prompted, enter code 607361). For additional information, visit or, if you have questions about this event ahead of time, call 206-386-1521.

We want your feedback!

We encourage groups to provide input on this ongoing project:

• Snap a photo of your group and post it or any comments/questions on AARP Washington’s Facebook page at; or

• email your comments and questions to; or

• call Northwest Prime Time at 206-824-8600; or

• mail us a note: Northwest Prime Time, PO Box 13647, Seattle WA 98198.


• Each group that contacts Northwest Prime Time by email, phone or U.S. mail will be entered to win a $100 gift card to Starbucks so you can splurge on coffee and treats for your next discussion group meeting.

• Your group will also be entered to win the grand prize (to be announced) at the end of the year. No cost to participate; limit one entry per month per group.

The Northshore Senior Center’s longtime “Current Issues” group won a $100 gift card to Starbucks for participating in the May edition of the Age-Friendly Discussion Groups Project.

A discussion group from Wesley Lea Hill in Auburn won a $100 gift card for their June discussion on “Communication.” A few of their many observations include a preference for face-to-face communication, followed by phone calls and hand-written letters. They use email, but they realize it is considered ‘old-school’ by some. The younger generation prefers texting, but “There are so many abbreviations that kids use, we often can’t understand them!”

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