Maintaining healthy social bonds is one of the best ways to protect mental health, especially in old age.
According to the AARP, simply hanging out and exercising can greatly improve the mental condition of seniors, but many with conditions like dementia on the Eastside may not be getting enough time with friends.
Karen Koenig saw this deficit, and in 2015 when the Sno-Valley Senior Center ended its adult day care program in Carnation, she decided to step in and form her own group, the Old Friends Club, which she directs.
“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “It’s also the most challenging, but it’s very well worth it.”
She formed the first club in Carnation where it has enjoyed a steady group of seniors. The second chapter opened a few weeks ago out of Lake Washington United Methodist Church in Kirkland and Koenig said it’s been successful so far.
The group meets on Tuesday and Thursday weekly for five hours each day where the seniors play games, hang out, do art and make friends.
“This is really just on a social level, filling that social need and that friendship,” Koenig said.
The service also runs fairly cheap, at $550 a month, it can provide caregivers, who are often family members, some time to themselves.
Koenig said she’s heard from many caregivers that before their elderly family member started attending the club they spent much of their time isolated.
And the benefits for club members is also tangible. Koenig recalls one senior who told her she hasn’t felt as good as she does for years.
“She feels like she can be silly, and she has friends, and that she hasn’t in a really long time,” Koenig said.
The club also provides a place for members to feel like they’re needed as they help others in the activities.
This sense of belonging is also a powerful experience for many.
“To feel like you are helping somebody else, it adds a sense of meaning and purpose to the day again,” Koenig said.
She hopes to keep the groups relatively small for now to increase the connection and intimacy of each, but said she would like to create more groups in the future.
She hopes the Old Friends Club can help combat a deficit she sees in the region.
“There are not enough resources for people who are living with dementia, or caring for someone living with dementia, so this is really an important thing to pay attention to, I think, to have those community supports available and my vision is to keep it growing,” she said.