Socializing in older age isn’t just a great way to feel connected and have fun, it’s also a critical component of staying healthy and living a long life. There’s a large body of research linking social isolation and loneliness to physical and emotional health challenges, especially in older populations. Some scientists even argue that social pain or isolation can feel as badly as physical pain.
Sara Kyle, PhD, Director of Resident Experience at Holiday Retirement, explains that people never lose the need and desire to share and be acknowledged for their strengths and what they offer humanity. “A sense of community keeps people vibrant, engaged, and full of purpose,” Dr. Kyle says.
Research indicates feeling connected and having strong social support may:
#1 Lower the Risk of Age-Related Disorders
Some research shows that social well-being is tied to lower inflammatory processes that may play a role in age-related conditions like cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, some cancers, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
#2 Increase Quality of Life
A 2019 survey of retirement communities found that 55% of residents reported their quality of life (QOL) was significantly higher than a year ago. Only 19% of non-residents reported a similar increase in QOL.
People living in retirement communities were also two to five times more likely to take part in exercising, time with family and friends, social events, and dining with others than their non-resident counterparts. Furthermore, 60% of retirement community residents said their health was the same since their move, with 10% reporting improvements in health.
#3 Improve Memory
A 2017 study by Northwestern University researchers found that adults over 80 who had more positive relationships than their less social counterparts enjoyed similar episodic memory performance as middle-agers.
#4 Lower Cancer Risk
A 2018 study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention journal found people with higher perceptions of social support had a lower risk of death from cancer than people with low levels of social satisfaction. The study’s researchers recommend health care professionals promote social connectedness as a means for improving cancer survival.
#5 Ward off Depression
A 2017 review of 29 studies on protective factors against geriatric depression found that a strong social support system is a critical part of mental health. Researchers found activities like social clubs, volunteering, family gatherings, and hobbies were useful depression prevention strategies for older adults.
More Motivation to Mingle
The good news is that you have opportunities to reap the rewards of socialization right outside your door. Meals, activities, events, exercise, and outings offer lots of ways to connect with other residents, and develop social bonds.
It’s important to remember that healthy social engagement isn’t merely about having a packed calendar though. When Dr. Kyle’s team surveyed Holiday residents last year they found feeling connected socially isn’t just about keeping busy with activity, but rather about having meaningful relationships with peers on campus and in the local town. “A sense of community is built when people are free to share who they are, and what makes them a person,” says Dr. Kyle
Dr. Kyle explains that most people are motivated by peers more than their own intrinsic motivation. “When we see friends and peers trying something new or participating in an activity, there’s more reasons to give it a go,” she says. Most people will agree that activities like attending concerts or plays, or trying out a new restaurant are more enjoyable with others. “We are social in nature and most often prefer to share experiences with others,” says Dr. Kyle. It’s many times these activities that nourish the mind, body, and spirit the most.
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