“Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘Holy Moly,’ what a ride!”—Leslie, Boise Baby Boomer member since 2013
Whoever thinks aging and social isolation go hand in hand has not met any of the 3,363 members of the Boise Baby Boomers, an online meetup group formed in October 2011.
A well-established group of mature adults, the BBB thrive on a variety of activities that keep its members fun, fit, and social. What began as a private Yahoo group for active singles expanded to include couples in their 50s, 60s, and beyond, when the popular Meetup platform became available.
Helping to find and create communities based around the ideas and activities that matter to participants, Meetups are formed around a common interest, goal or cause. They are made up of regular, face-to-face gatherings, according to Meetup.com.
“People join because they are looking to socialize and find things to do,” said Frank Shuff, one of the co-organizers for the Boise group and an early joiner in 2011. He’s the force behind the annual Memorial Day pool party, one of three summer events he hosts at the clubhouse in the complex where he lives.
When the Ste. Chapelle Sunday Concert Series opened in Caldwell, Shuff and other BBB groups were there to celebrate the season.
Celebrating life is what the meetup members do best. From hikes, movies and game night to dancing, bowling and wine tasting, just about any activity is fair game for volunteer organizers.
“I have enjoyed the BBB a lot and feel it’s very valuable to our friends from the baby boomer generation—it gets us out socially and physically,” said Dave Hopkins, the group’s main organizer.
While giving dance lessons with his partner Corrine in 2015, Hopkins met the group’s charismatic original founder. Before he knew it, he had joined the group and was leading fellow boomers on hikes in the Boise Foothills and surrounding areas.
While hiking events still draw a loyal crowd, other recurring activities—like volunteering at the Idaho Foodbank, cheap bowling night, lunch and a bike ride on the Boise Greenbelt, beginner nightclub two-step, cribbage and pinochle, movie night at Edwards Theaters, and “Take a Walk on the West Side”—have become mainstays as well. More than 40 event organizers tailor activities to a niche of participants, and the BBB now boasts 5,187 scheduled meetups since its inception.
Social scientists have long regarded social connectedness as one of the hallmarks of a life well-lived at any age. Social isolation in older adults is a risk factor that can result in mental health and substance abuse issues, even suicide. But given the success of meetup groups like the BBB, the dismal perception of aging adults’ social life (or lack of one) might just be exaggerated—especially in the digital age of social networking.
In Boise, Idaho, at least, social interaction with other boomers—retired or working, coupled or single—has never been so easy or accessible in this small city of 223,000.
An article in the American Sociological Review, called “The Social Connectedness of Older Adults: A National Profile” by Benjamin Cornwell, Edward O. Laumann, and L. Philip Schumm, used data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a population-based study of 3,005 older Americans, ages 57–85 conducted in 2005–2006, which was funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA).
The authors developed a comprehensive, up-to-date description of older adults’ social integration.
Considering both interpersonal social networks and community involvement and voluntary associations as evidence of “social connectedness,” they found that, contrary to the popular notion of social isolation in later life, older Americans are well-connected.
Those with larger social networks tended to have better health, and good health was a contributing factor for active community involvement. According to the study, retirement and bereavement actually increased social contact with other network members,and also increased involvement in the community through religious or voluntary organizations as people aged.
“Overall, our findings suggest that the popular image of older adults as socially isolated has little empirical value,” the authors concluded. “Future research may help clarify causal mechanisms linking life transitions and health to social network connectedness.”
Besides dancing and organizing activities for people from his generation, Hopkins volunteers as a master gardener and master naturalist.
A testament to the benefits of an active lifestyle and social engagement in retirement, he has this advice to aging baby boomers: “I encourage everyone to retire as soon as they can, find some good organizations to join, and reap the rewards of varying activities and volunteering. As we are older with experience, we have a lot to give.”
Ellen of Kuna, a member since November 2014, sums up the attraction for a meetup group like the BBB on her profile page.
“I enjoy a variety of activities, ranging from going to the movies, plays, and concerts to hiking and watching football. I’m looking forward to meeting new friends with whom I can share some of these fun times.”
Fitness. Fun times. Dining out. Social networking. Just a few of the things that the BBB is about. To learn more, visit them at www.meetup.com/Boise-Baby-Boomers ISI
Mary Ann Reuter is a Boise-based health and lifestyle writer whose interests include active aging, rural health and animal-assisted therapy.