A Senior’s Guide to Making Friends Online

As people age, they tend to stay home more, either from physical diminishments or from a decrease in outside obligations. The Internet comes to the rescue for those seniors who may rarely leave the home, but who still want to socialize. This is especially important as Americans increasingly turn away from the companionship of assisted living and plan to age in place in their homes, with perhaps only the life alert system connecting them to the outside world.

Whether it’s health issues keeping you at home, or you just live in a rural area with few opportunities, you can still build up a rewarding social life in the online world. Social media sites, message boards, online games and more give you a chance to make a connection with people from every country and every walk of life.

Social Media

The first and most obvious place to socialize online is through sites like Facebook, Reddit, etc. If you’re not already on a local site, try searching for something like seniors groups near me. You can also try searching for groups based around a hobby or interest.

If you prefer to chat with people your age, many hobbies do skew toward an older crowd. These include things like gardening, golf, bird watching, antiquing, model building, genealogy, military history and many more.

Are you already a member of the Red Hat Society or the Romeo Club (Retired Old Men Eating Out)? Good news! Many branches of these societies have switched to virtual meetups. They also have active forum communities.

What if you’re new to social media? A good starting point is Facebook. It’s the biggest social media platform, and the user base leans to the older rather than the trendy newcomers. Facebook also allows text, photo, and video posts. If you’re not sure what kind of posts you like to make, this site gives you flexibility. Just make sure that you use a unique, solid password when creating your account.

Virtual Volunteering

Yes, you can volunteer for a good cause without having to leave your home! You may have some in-demand skills that work just fine over the phone or via the internet. For instance, you could volunteer to tutor students in whatever subjects you’re confident in. This tutoring can be done through video call, or even by email, and for subjects as basic as offering suggestions for a student’s composition skills.

Some organizations have a virtual volunteer division. The Smithsonian Digital Volunteers helps the Institution by transcribing important historical documents and adding references and facts to Wikipedia articles. Teams of volunteers are also assembled to identify invasive plant and animal species and track down where they entered the ecosystem.

AARP developed Create the Good so volunteers can conveniently search for opportunities in their location or area of interest. Many of these are virtual positions.

Crafting for charity organizations like Soldiers’ Angels and Operation Christmas Cards gives seniors who love arts and crafts a worthy place to send what they’re making. You can write letters and put together care packages for veterans and their families.

Go local by calling your local senior centers and community centers and ask if there are any virtual volunteer positions in their listings. This opens the door for teaching virtual classes in your particular areas of knowledge. You could also make welfare calls to people living with disabilities and dementia.

Fun and Games

Maybe you don’t need to wrestle with message boards and Facebook to meet new people. Maybe the key to a bigger online social circle is right in your hand, on your phone. A lot of app-based games get you playing against or teaming up with real people.

There are word-making games like Scrabble, GO and Words With Friends. And that family favorite, UNO, has an app version. Then there are social deduction games like Among Us. Virtual board games on Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator let you play everything from dominoes to chess to Monopoly.

Angry Birds Friends offers mini tournaments that are great for seniors with quick fingers. Virtual escape rooms like The Escape Game team you up with three other players to solve an art heist. And Pokemon Go offers multiple battle leagues for older adults who have gotten bitten by the Poke-bug.

If you’re not into games, online TV and movie-watching parties may be just the ticket, with a decent internet connection. Zoom and Skype both have options that let you watch media together even if you and your friends are miles apart. Note that if your party includes three or more people, Zoom’s free version caps those meetings at 40 minutes. However, that’s still long enough for most TV episodes if you cut out the credits.

Many of the digital streaming platforms are hopping onto this trend with digital party services of their own. These include Netflix Party (a browser extension for up to 50 people), Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney+. Some of these don’t offer chatting features, but you could still text during the show.

Enjoy the Journey

Making friends, in-person or online, takes time. In fact, studies suggest that it takes 50 hours of shared time to turn an acquaintance into a casual friend. Don’t look at that as a minus. Instead, it’s fifty hours of getting to know amazing people from around the world, people you might never have met if you hadn’t put yourself out there in your online communities.

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