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Game nights give boomers social outlets

Mon., July 8, 2013, midnight

When Ron Riedel’s kids graduated from high school, he and his wife, Lorita, found they were socializing less. They weren’t meeting up with friends at soccer games, school plays and other kid-related events.

So Riedel formed a “Baby Boomer” group through his church that hosts regular game nights and weekly dinners.

“When our kids were around, we had reasons to get together,” said Riedel, 55, a furniture maker in Auburn, Calif. Now, “we had less excuses to get together, so we invented this.”

As baby boomers age, many of the traditional ways to make friends disappear, said Lynda J. Sperazza, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Brockport, who studies how this generation spends its free time. Many start looking for new social outlets.

“Recreation and leisure is still of utmost importance. It is critical to their self-concept and sense of well-being,” she said. “Game nights and boomer clubs are a means to be active, which is in sync to their values.”

Games do help people stay mentally sharp, said Dr. Martha Stearn, executive director of the St. John’s Institute for Cognitive Health in Jackson, Wyo. Each fall, the institute holds a Brain Game Challenge with trivia contests, word games, Tai Chi demonstrations, sing-alongs and other activities. But Stearn said the social benefits of games and activities are even more important for brain health than the mental challenges are.

“We are programmed to be social. Isolation is one of the worst things for the brain,” she says.

Tracy Weller found a monthly Bunco game when she moved to a new neighborhood in Wexford, Pa., in her 30s. Gathering with other moms in the neighborhood to play the dice game was a good excuse to get out of the house, she said. Now 49, Weller is a substitute player in the group; she gave up her permanent spot because her two teenage daughters have such busy schedules.

She anticipates returning to the group full-time when her daughters head off to college in a few years.

“I expect I will have more time to myself then,” she said.

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