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Socialization and Seniors: Why It’s Key to Health and Happiness

Older adults, especially those who live alone, can become isolated from friends and family as their ability to get out and about decreases. With isolation comes a variety of mental and physical health risks that include depression, anxiety, loneliness, and higher mortality rates. A case in point is the COVID-19 pandemic which according to the NPR Weekend Edition broadcast, “Elderly people make up 75% of COVID-19 deaths. Many more have died from isolation” isolation alone was complicit in additional deaths during the pandemic. As research into the negative impacts of isolation on senior well-being continue, take a look at what we know today.

Is it isolation or loneliness?

According to the article, “Social isolation, loneliness negatively affect health for seniors” isolation is an “objective” state where a senior does not have adequate social opportunities, and loneliness is a “subjective” state where the senior feels distress about being alone. So, isolation can cause loneliness, but not everyone who is isolated feels lonely. It is also true that even seniors who are not isolated can be lonely but staying connected does help lower risks overall.

The need to connect

Humans are social animals and from birth require others to nurture us and help us thrive. After retirement, however, many seniors soon find their social connections begin to slip away as work friendships end and other friends move or pass away, leaving them with lots of time but no one to share it with. This fundamental need for human interaction, left unfulfilled, can bring about impacts from lower quality of life to mental and physical health problems to shorter life spans. Find out more about how human contact shapes our lives in the article, “The Importance of Connection.”

How’s your “social capital”?

The term “social capital” is often used in the context of the workplace where it is important to have teams that work together well to achieve shared goals, but it also applies to individual relationships. For older adults social capital is essentially the networks of positive, supportive, trusting relationships one has that provide the social engagement necessary to stay healthy and fulfilled. Networks may be within any social framework and could include the family, friends within the neighborhood or senior living community, places of worship, on social media, and/or through work or volunteering. Each network of relationships a senior has adds to their social capital, helping to decrease risks associated with isolation. There are many ways for seniors to build social capital like those described in the article, “Social Well-Being for Seniors: A Guide to Staying Connected and Making Friends.”

Socialization and mobility

Mobility, or the lack of it, is one of the primary reasons seniors’ social capital decreases. Having the ability to visit friends and family or go to social events can help retain and build social capital. And living in a place that inherently promotes social capital helps too. In one study described in the Greater Good Magazine article, “How Social Connections Keep Seniors Healthy,” researchers found that living in an areas with higher social capital (i.e.,  where residents find trust, help, and safety) actually encouraged seniors to be more mobile, have more social connections and even adopt healthier behaviors.

Connecting for quality of life

Throughout our lives we belong to different social groups whether at work, school, church, or in the community. In so doing we nurture connections that provide a sense of belonging and increase quality of life. For older adults with no spouse, no family near and few social connections, the sense of belonging can quickly diminish. In the article, “Isolation in Seniors: The Loss of Belonging” notes that belonging to something greater than oneself and having purpose isn’t just good for overall health, but for quality of life as well.

Dementia and socialization

One of the greatest threats to socialization for seniors is a diagnosis of dementia. Sadly, research has also shown that dementia progresses faster with a lack of socialization. Although research in this area is ongoing, there also may be a link between social connections and dementia prevention as described in the article, “Does Social Interaction Prevent Dementia?” Specifically, the article described a six-year study of people over 65 without dementia and found that those who participated in a “highly interactive” discussion group had improved cognitive function as well as increased brain volume, the latter of which has been associated with a reduced risk of dementia.

At One Lincoln Park, our emphasis on socialization is evident in everything we do to support our residents in living fulfilling and independent lives. See for yourself the many benefits of living at One Lincoln Park – schedule your visit today.

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