How Do Social Connections Contribute to Keeping Seniors Healthy
Regular social interaction is very crucial to one’s mental health. Studies show that spending quality time with people you trust and care about can help you feel refreshed, grounded, and overall mentally stable.
Maintaining a social circle may be easy when you’re young. However, as you grow older, you’ll have far fewer opportunities to interact with peers, friends, or even family members. A survey reveals that around 33% of women and 21% of men aged over 65 in the U.S. live alone.
Now, for many seniors, living alone is a choice they made to help retain their sense of independence. Sadly, this also isolates them from the rest of the world. Considering most over 65 don’t need to go to work anymore—much less attend classes—the only way they’ll be able to maintain social connections is through group get-togethers.
Should seniors living alone simply leave things as they are? No! It’s unavoidable for one to have a smaller social circle as he or she grows older, but that does not mean you shouldn’t mingle with others anymore.
Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of regular social interaction for the elderly and how you can maintain social connections even as you age.
Top Reasons Why the Elderly Should Maintain Their Social Connections
1. Improved Mental Stability
Perhaps the top reason why the elderly should stay active is to maintain mental health. Studies suggest that social isolation can be directly linked to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Remember, an idle, empty mind is more prone to negative thoughts.
You don’t have to go out all the time to prevent feeling sad, having someone to confide in and talk to whenever you’re feeling down should be more than enough. It could be a friend, relative, or trusted peer going through the same issues. Sometimes, all we need is for someone to listen to our stories.
Note: Social connections are not a replacement for proper treatment. If you feel that your mental health is worsening, don’t be afraid to seek professional medical help. Reach out to a psychologist that specializes in senior patients.
2. Better Physical Health
As the body ages, the activities it can perform and motions it can execute become limited. What was once a simple task might not be as easy to do once you reach a certain age.
The inability to partake in different physical activities is primarily caused by one’s lack of strength, flexibility, and mobility. These naturally decline as the body ages. However, it’s not impossible to slow down the negative effects of aging on the human body—or even reverse them to a certain degree.
Now, the problem here is that elderly people who isolate themselves don’t get to move around as much. A NY Times article reports that socially isolated seniors don’t even leave their homes. And any physical conditions or illnesses they have due to aging may aggravate if they don’t make an effort to stay active.
On the other hand, one who stays socially active will find themselves moving around more often without even realizing it. Don’t underestimate the positive effects of small, consistent activities. Even a simple walk to the salon or bingo center is more than enough exercise for the aging body.
3. Lower Risk of Mortality Risk Factors
We’ve all seen articles saying social isolation increases the risk of mortality. Although, the idea might seem kind of silly, and to say that socially distant seniors are more at risk of early death is quite a reach. But is it that unusual?
Research published by the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging shows that 28,238 socially distant women aged 45 to 85 were at risk of hypertension. The researchers defined “socially distant” as those who weren’t in a relationship, partook in less than three social events per month and had a small social connection with no more than 85 individuals.
The same study reveals that single women—including widows and divorcees—who had a small social circle and went to limited gatherings were more prone to obesity and weight gain-related complications.
Of course, this data does not in any way claim that social isolation by itself is the direct cause of hypertension and obesity. The study’s goal is to provide how isolation can cause one to forego taking care of their health.
4. Decreased Risk of Accidents
Having a trusted social circle ensures you are safe in case of emergencies and accidents. For example, if you go to a bingo game every night, the people in your group may check up on you if you skip a session. Similarly, someone well-known in their neighborhood may draw a lot of attention if the neighbors stopped hearing from him or her all of a sudden.
Unfortunately, seniors who live alone don’t often make an effort to interact with the people around them, so when an emergency happens, no one’s there to help. Statistics show that many seniors living independently are brought to the ER for emergencies and accidents. Note that even a simple fall could be fatal for the fragile, elderly body.
You don’t necessarily have to be a neighborhood superstar, but at least maintain a small circle you talk to daily. The interactions don’t have to be that long. Quick, daily chit chats with someone that always passes your house, a neighbor you regularly see when taking out the trash, or even the mailman are more than enough.
5. Supports Cognitive Health
It’s not surprising that social engagement helps sustain one’s cognitive health. Through small, daily interactions, one can feel more in touch and grounded—these are important if you want to prolong strong mental vitality into old age.
For best results, try engaging in intellectual discussions. The conversation topics can be anything from news and current affairs to deep life realizations. Overall, the goal is to stimulate the brain through analytical thinking.
Note: Try to stray from politics and religion. Yes, they’re very controversial topics, and engaging in these conversations will lead to an intense exchange of ideas. However, not everyone can talk about these without getting offended. Make sure you choose who you talk to and what you talk about with them.
How to Stay Sociable and Active Even as You Age
Contrary to popular belief, seniors can stay socially active. Yes, social engagement becomes a bit more challenging, and the fragility of the aging body is also a hindrance, but there are many ways to work around these issues.
If you want to interact with more people daily, you can try:
Exercising With Neighborhood Walking Groups
See that group of energetic walkers every morning? Join them! What better way to stay healthy physically and mentally than by interacting with individuals committed to bettering themselves through daily exercise, right?
Walking is a great, low-impact exercise scientifically proven to improve one’s overall health drastically without hurting fragile bones and joints. Just 30 minutes of walking can already yield significant benefits.
Signing Up for Bingo Night
Yes, a senior citizen playing bingo is a played-out stereotype, but these events are a great place for seniors to interact with peers. Look for nearby centers that host bingo games for seniors and check out what they have to offer. Who knows, you might even be able to make a few friends right away on your first night.
Get a Phone
The 21st century offers a wide range of modern technology that connects everyone from around the globe, so if you don’t even have a phone yet, you’re definitely missing out on a lot. Having a phone allows you to relay messages in real-time. Whether they live down the block or thousands of miles on the other side of the earth, you can connect with them instantly.
Joining a Senior Care Facility
There’s a negative stereotype associated with joining a senior care facility. Some seniors assume that these facilities are modern-day loony bins where they would have zero freedom. We want to emphasize this is far from the truth.
Senior care facilities exist to help aging individuals live as comfortably as possible alongside their peers. Not only will you get access to 24/7 emergency assistance, but you’ll also be able to interact with fellow seniors. Trust us, social interaction occurs more naturally when there are plenty of opportunities for it.
Hiring a Caregiver
Hiring a caregiver is a great option for seniors who wish to continue living at home but are already in need of daily assistance. Ideally, clients should go with someone they get along with. Remember, you’re not just looking for extra help, but rather, you also want someone to talk to regularly.
As we mentioned, it’s unavoidable for the elderly to have a smaller social circle as they age. After all, there aren’t as many opportunities to go out anymore. However, that doesn’t mean one should completely give up on keeping in touch with peers and maintaining social connections.
Reconnect with old classmates or workmates, join senior citizen’s group activities like bingo, or regularly invite your friends and family to come over for dinner. There are multiple ways to connect with people. The only difference now is that you’ll have to play a more active role for these events to push through.
How do you maintain social connections as you age? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!