Why Experts Say We Need Human Connection to Age Amazingly
Surely, you’ve heard the usual, age-old guidance about how to be healthy, physically and mentally. Eat a wholesome diet. Exercise often. Don’t smoke. Drink alcohol only in moderation. Maintain a sensible weight and blood pressure. It’s all sound advice. But did you know that many researchers, scientists and doctors now say that human connection can be listed right up there alongside those key, nourishing factors?
Rising steadily since the 1990s, a field named “interpersonal neurobiology” has become a framework for studying the effects of interpersonal relationships on the human body, brain and mind. Continuing research in this area confirms the vital function that social engagement performs in our lives.
For seniors, a lack of social engagement can cause particularly damaging effects, which have surfaced to an even greater extent in recent years. Although necessary, the social distancing measures taken since the onset of the COVID pandemic demonstrated the impact of isolation and loneliness: deteriorating health and a troubling amount of suffering in seniors.
Keep reading below, as we delve into how human connection influences our total wellness. We’ll hear thought-provoking observations from the interpersonal neurobiology experts who prove why seniors must focus on relationships to boost their health, happiness and longevity – and, ultimately, age amazingly.
“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.”
That’s how seriously we should take socialization, according to at least one renowned expert. Dr. Louis Cozolino, who practices psychotherapy and consulting psychology and is a professor at Pepperdine University, illustrates that biologically speaking, human beings require socialization.
In his book Timeless: Nature’s Formula for Health and Longevity, he elaborates 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,” he says, “our relationships are our most important habitat.”
Dr. Cozolino continues, “As highly interdependent creatures with interdependent brains, it would make great sense that the health and longevity of our brains would be influenced by our active involvement in all our relationships.”
Think about what that means for seniors. As they grow older, their lives often change in ways that remove them from opportunities to form and maintain quality relationships with family, friends and members of the surrounding community. This happens at the same time that human connection becomes even more essential to promoting their exceptional health and well-being.
“If we don’t interact regularly with people face-to-face, the odds are we won’t live as long, remember information as well, or be as happy as we could have been.”
So says Susan Pinker, a developmental psychologist and social neuroscience researcher, who reports a worrying, coinciding uptick in Americans living alone. This rate has been escalating every decade since the early 20th century – and, sadly, seniors represent a sizeable percentage of this population.
Pinker wrote The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter, a book filled with eye-opening information on this subject. She cites serious dangers that result from a solitary lifestyle, finding that, “Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic head injury.”
Keep in mind that one does not need to feel lonely to experience the damaging downsides of living alone. In fact, she notes, “It does mean that like it or not, you have less physical proximity to other human beings whom you care about and who have an interest in your survival – fewer impromptu conversations, fewer shared puns and jokes, and, of course, less physical contact.”
“People who are solitary are deprived of the daily pats, hugs and eye contact that primates have been using to communicate for at least 60 million years.” Seniors who live alone miss out on practically an eternity’s worth of natural, innate sustenance for physical, mental and emotional health.
“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.”
As his quote above indicates, another expert agrees that social activity plays an enduring role as a mind-body influencer. Bryan D. James, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, reports that higher levels of social interaction can positively impact seniors, and substantially.
Studies performed by James and his colleagues showed that an older individual who experiences high levels of social activity achieves a 43-percent lower rate of disability and about a 50-percent rate of cognitive decline than someone who experiences low levels of social activity.
Additionally, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) cites research linking social isolation and loneliness in seniors to higher risks for a vast array of physical and mental conditions. Some of them include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- A weakened immune system
- Cognitive decline
- Alzheimer’s disease
The NIA states, “People who find themselves unexpectedly alone due to the death of a spouse or partner, separation from friends or family, retirement, loss of mobility, and lack of transportation are at particular risk.”
On the flip side, “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, studies show.”
An Ideal Solution That Supports Social Engagement for Seniors
As the evidence above clearly confirms, seniors should make a focused effort to stay socially involved when they find themselves living alone, feeling alone or lonely or drifting to an isolated lifestyle. An excellent solution would be a move into a senior living community that reinforces human connection – and automatically provides those interpersonal elements fundamental to their complete health.
Rather than experiencing the negative effects of solitary living, residents of senior living communities instead gain a vast variety of benefits. They enjoy daily, face-to-face contact and social interaction, numerous possibilities for building relationships and a “safety net” in their neighbors and community staff members.
Residents engage by participating in both new and newly rediscovered hobbies and interests together, gathering to share their meals and joining in activities and events that give them joy and purpose. The delightful result: Senior living residents stay better situated to revel in lives that can be healthier, happier and even longer.
Trust a Central Texas Senior Living Leader
Now’s the time to find out how a senior living option in your area could be your ideal choice and provide the many benefits of a “village” environment. 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.
Be sure to tour the communities you like and speak with staff members and residents to guarantee you have all the vital information in hand to make the best decision.