For most people, we understandably (and correctly) believe that being health conscious means eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol, keeping our weight and blood pressure at prescribed levels and heeding other commonly recommended advice.
But did you know that many researchers, scientists and doctors now agree that regular social activity is equally important to our overall wellness? It’s true! Read on to discover some facts behind these discoveries – and how you can help the seniors in your life engage more frequently in these genuinely vital personal interactions and relationships.
Social Engagement: The Secret to Seniors’ Healthier, Happier and Longer Lives
Studies supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) show that “people who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others tend to live longer, boost their mood, and have a sense of purpose. These activities seem to help maintain their well-being and may improve their cognitive function.”
Conversely, NIA research links social isolation and loneliness directly to a wide variety of physical and mental conditions. Among the surprising risks of decreased interactions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease – and even early death.
The ultimate upshot: As dramatic as it sounds, you could say that ensuring constant social connections can save a senior’s life.
Social Connections Often Snap As We Age
Sadly, research shows that senior citizens are particularly vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness. Up until the mid-1900s, it was commonplace for older adults to live with others. Over the last century, however, they comprise a significant portion of the mounting, American population who lives alone.
Think about it. One day you’re dwelling in a household, integrated into some kind of tight-knit family unit. You’re an active member of a neighborhood and the greater community and society. You attend school and faith services alongside peers and likeminded people. Maybe you worked for years, contributing as part of team driven toward mutual goals.
More than a survival situation, spending every day among your fellow human beings enabled you to thrive.
Before you realize, time marches on, and you may find yourself less involved with other people, or perhaps alone. Retiring from a job. Struggling with the death of a spouse or partner. Family members and friends moving or passing away. A decline in mobility. Insufficient transportation. Staying secluded at home, avoiding unsafe contact during the COVID pandemic. As everyone has witnessed, life can throw any number of causes at you.
Whether sudden or something you saw coming, this loss of connection can inevitably threaten the mind, body and spirit.
Some Scientific Reasons Why Beings Are Social Creatures
Since the 1990s, a field called “interpersonal neurobiology” has been emerging as a framework for studying how interpersonal relationships bear an undeniable influence on the human body, brain and mind. Ongoing research in this field proves the fundamental role that social connections play in our lives.
According to Bryan D. James, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, higher levels of social interaction can positively impact seniors in a major way. Throughout their studies, he and his colleagues discover consistent benefits. In fact, they find that an older individual who experiences high social activity levels maintains a 43-percent lower rate of disability and about a 50-percent rate of cognitive decline than someone experiencing low social activity levels.
The explanation, James asserts, is biological. “Social activity is related to motor function, just like physical exercise is related. We can’t determine which is most important – they each contribute a piece of the puzzle.”
It’s also evolutionary. “When you use your brain and body the way it was intended – as it evolved – you age better. We just aren’t meant to be disengaged from one another.”
Dr. Louis Cozolino, who practices psychotherapy and consulting psychology and is also a professor at Pepperdine University, adds his own findings.
In his book Timeless: Nature’s Formula for Health and Longevity, he states that, “As social animals, our brains are built through reciprocal interactions across the social synapse. Being a member of a complex society requires a brain equipped to process a vast amount of social information and adapt to a changing constellation of relationships. Nurturing, caretaking, and playing all trigger a symphony of processes that promote health and well-being. For humans, our relationships are our most important habitat.”
“As highly interdependent creatures with interdependent brains,” Dr. Cozolino continues, it would make great sense that the health and longevity of our brains would be influenced by our active involvement in all our relationships.”
And emphasizing just how critical we should consider socialization, he says, “Of all the experiences we need to survive and thrive, it is the experience of relating to others that is the most meaningful and important.”
A Simple Strategy to Improve Seniors’ Social Involvement
Clearly, as we grow older, it becomes far more challenging to make friends and to engage in socialization. But fortunately, that doesn’t have to be the case! With a productive lifestyle change to a setting shaped to their particular needs, seniors can effortlessly avoid the alarming dangers of isolation and loneliness.
How can we help seniors stay social? By moving into a senior living community, they can continue to strengthen their hardwired human connections and achieve that abundance of quality social time proven to be incredibly crucial to their overall health.
On a daily basis, senior living residents automatically experience frequent face-to-face interactions, with both their peers and thoughtful, supportive staff members. Together, in a safe, welcoming environment, they are encouraged to communicate with others, contribute to stimulating conversations, build satisfying relationships, explore brand-new and favorite hobbies and interests, and share meals, activities and outings.
Senior living communities are real “communities” in every sense of the word, and so guarantee all of the human touchpoints – and countless benefits – that residents would never receive if they lived alone.
Trust a Central Texas Senior Living Leader
An expert in assisted living and memory care, Stoney Brook designed its senior living communities to help residents flourish. Through a fun, sociable environment and ample, stimulating activities, you or your loved one can age well – and savor each day to its absolute fullest.
Schedule a complimentary visit to meet us in person and understand our relationship-centered approach firsthand. Plus, subscribe to our blog, a valuable, insightful resource devoted to seniors and their caregivers, and learn more about navigating this next chapter.