The importance of maintaining social connection as we age

How important is social support and stimulation as we age? Quite simply, it’s very important.

Research consistently shows that socialization plays an important role in maintaining quality of life–especially for seniors. Older adults who have strong social networks often not only enjoy a higher quality of life, but also tend to live longer and are healthier compared to those with little social support and engagement.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) says positive indicators of social well-being may be associated with lower levels of interleukin-6 in otherwise healthy people. Interleukin-6 is an inflammatory factor implicated in age-related disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer.

Studies also show loneliness and social isolation are clearly linked to poor health outcomes and are major risk factors for illness and mortality. People who are lonely frequently suffer from depression, experience more stress, and have elevated systolic blood pressure. In fact, a study conducted by the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago found that people who feel consistently lonely have a 14% higher risk of premature death than those who do not have feelings of loneliness.

Just as social activities are important in keeping a child’s brain healthy and stimulated as they grow, social activities for older adults keep those neurons firing. As we age, it’s especially important to meet new people, build new relationships and enjoy the many far-reaching benefits of a large–and active–social network. Whether it’s joining a book club, acting in a play, taking an art class or simply dining with friends, stimulating the mind and engaging with other people is vital to overall well-being. Daily interaction is also good for the body; it can also stimulate the desire to continue with physical activity like walking and other daily exercise.

Today, more seniors are choosing to live alone as long as their health permits. While it is certainly understandable that seniors wish to maintain their independence, living alone can be a concern since it increases isolation. It also may be hard for adult children and other concerned relatives to know exactly how often their loved one leaves the house or interacts with others.

For many seniors, Independent Living at a retirement community or Continuing Care Retirement Community, such as Lions Gate, can offer the best of both worlds. Seniors can remain living independently in an apartment or cottage while having access to a vast array of stimulating activities, a large community of neighbors and support services, if they are needed.

In a recent review of social isolation, it was noted that the prevalence of isolation among seniors who live at home versus those in senior living communities might be as high as 43%. Those living in retirement communities have daily access to stimulating opportunities, such as building and maintaining relationships, learning new skills, developing new interests, stimulating the mind and staying connected.

At senior living communities, socialization can come in many forms. From dining with others, playing card games and belonging to clubs, to participating in exercise classes, learning a new skill or going to the theater, communities such as Lions Gate make it easy to engage in these activities and more. At Lions Gate, we believe that engagement and connection leads to a renewed interest in living life to its fullest.

Research supports this belief.

The Seniors Digest recently identified eight scientifically supported benefits to socialization:

• Stronger immune system.

• Moderated blood pressure.

• Improved brain health and memory.

• Physical activity.

• Reduced depression.

• Reduced impact of chronic pain.

• Improved nutritional intake.

• Improvement in primary relationships.

The benefits of being socially active will last far into the future. Staying active and social can only enhance life as we age, so we encourage everyone–no matter what age they are–to keep those connections strong! s

slove@lionsgateccrc.org

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