Although loneliness may not seem like a significant issue, lack of social contact can have a serious detrimental effect on the emotional and physical health of older adults, who are one of the groups most susceptible to isolation.
Many elders live alone – almost half of women age 75 or older live by themselves, according to the Administration on Aging. It’s a fact of life that as people grow older, the chances increase that they will lose close friends and relatives to death as well as their spouse. Sometimes a senior’s adult children have moved away, which only compounds their isolation. In addition, older adults are usually no longer in the workforce, which cuts down on their opportunities for social interaction, and they may have health problems that make it difficult for them to go out and take part in the community. However, meeting new people and finding new opportunities for social interaction aren’t as difficult as you think.
Social Contact Can Benefit a Senior's Health
Studies have shown a strong connection between social interaction and the mental and physical well being of seniors. For instance, research shows that consistent human contact can reduce stress as well as the risk of depression, which occurs in more than two million of the 34 million seniors in the USA, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
As well, social interaction can even decrease the risk of dementia, a common disorder in older adults (Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affects one in nine seniors.) As this 2009 study by the American Academy of Neurology, on the relationship between dementia, stress, and socialization discovered, “people who are socially active and not easily stressed may be less likely to develop dementia.” This alone exemplifies how crucial it is to have regular social interaction as often as possible.
It may surprise you to learn that socialization can also have a significant effect on physical health. Studies have found that consistent socialization can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, and reduce physical pain. As well, older adults, who as a group are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition, often eat more and healthier food when they dine in the company of others.
Increasing Social Connections
Sometimes all a senior needs is gentle encouragement to be more socially engaged. With a little nudging they will sign up for courses, attend a senior center, or volunteer, all excellent ways to meet more people.
However, when seniors are frail, have mobility problems, or suffer from dementia or depression, sometimes a little more is needed. In cases like this, a first-rate senior living community, such as the ones offered by Brookdale, is often the perfect solution. Not only do residents have the option of eating all their meals with other residents, they have engaging social and recreational activities to choose from as well as warm and caring staff members to interact with. Andrew Smith, Brookdale’s senior director of strategy and innovation, wrote about the importance of interdependence and how senior living reengages seniors in an active life.
If you care about an older adult, I encourage you to keep tabs on the amount of social stimulation they are receiving. If you suspect there’s not enough people in their world, have a talk about ways to increase social contact. Taking the right steps could transform their quality of life.