One of the hardest aspects of aging is the way family and friends tend to fade into the background as we retire from longtime jobs, see acquaintances less often, lose contacts or spouses to death and illness, and we get out less as mobility becomes harder. It appears somewhat inevitable for seniors to become increasingly isolated from their social contacts.
At Morningside of College Park, we’re keenly aware of the importance of the “community” part of a senior living community. That means creating a place that feels like home, designed for sharing, friendship, and activities to maintain mental and physical well-being.
Human beings tend to feel less anxious or depressed when ties exist based on trust, connection, and participation. An aging parent may feel apprehensive staying in a long-time home if he or she is all that’s left there, surrounded by neighbors who may not be familiar or helpful.
Why is social health important?
There have been many studies to find positive health impacts among those with strong social interactions in senior circles.
In one study, Bryan James, an epidemiologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, looked at 1,100 seniors without dementia, measuring their social activity levels, then following up over the next 12 years. Findings: The rate of cognitive decline was 70 percent less in people with frequent social contact than those with low social activity.
Another study by the same researcher looked at seniors’ ability to care for themselves. Those with more frequent social activity maintained lower levels of disability, allowing them to live independently longer than their less social counterparts.
Even when James statistically controlled for risk factors like smoking or a history of disease or smoking, he still found that those with high levels of social activity have 43 percent less disability than those with low levels of social activity, and about half the rate of cognitive decline.
The implication is that removing an aging parent from a home where he or she spends most of the time alone watching TV, possibly anxious about crime in the neighborhood, can potentially expand life-span – and the quality of the life lived. Failure to act might spell disaster for the emotional and physical health of a loved one.
The Solution? Relocating to a community of people with similar interests, life experiences, and values. Mom and/or dad can be around peers their own age rather than isolated among neighbors who may be vastly younger.
Understanding the Importance of Social Connection for Seniors
You need only look at Morningside’s June newsletter to see seniors smiling and enjoying each other’s company. Residents will come together to learn how to prevent falls, paint with watercolors, cool off with refreshing soda floats, sip a beer at the Father’s Day Luncheon, enjoy a camp-themed luncheon in the Brass Rose Dining Room, or tap their feet to the musical stylings of Toby and Collette of The Joymaker’s or listen to Doug DeBaun play in guitar in the lower atrium on the third Saturday of every other month. In July, the fun continues with Name that Tune, a delicious Sundae Bar, or a tribute to Elvis. Fellowship is the name of the game, whether our residents are decorating mini-clay pots, assembling paper cars, or some other fun activity.
Why do we do all of these activities and more? Experts tell us that senior adults who are active and engaged socially often extend their lives and their enjoyment of life by years.
“Human nature leads us to crave fulfilling relationships with other people. As we age, however, life circumstances may push us toward loneliness and isolation unless we take proactive steps to cultivate new relationships,” writes author Elizabeth Bemis, MA, in the article “The Importance of Socialization at Senior Living Communities”.
“Most people understand the importance of encouraging young children to socialize, but it's easy to overlook the importance of socialization for older adults,” Bemis adds.
Joining a group of people with the same interests makes life more fun. Volunteering, working or looking forward to activities you enjoy can provide a reason to get up and go with a smile. Feeling helpful and needed often makes a huge difference in anyone's life, regardless of their age.
In a study by the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive & Social Neuroscience, researchers found that people who feel consistently lonely have a 14 percent higher risk of premature death. Psychologist John Cacioppo says, "Loneliness is a risk factor for early death beyond what can be explained by poor health behavior. Feeling lonely isn't only unhappy; it's unsafe."
The study concluded that feeling lonely and isolated from others can lead to several unhealthy outcomes, including:
- Less restful, restorative sleep
- Higher blood pressure
- Increased levels of the unhealthy stress hormone cortisol
- Increased rates of depression
- A decreased sense of living a meaningful life
To learn more about Morningside of College Park and how it may positively affect a loved one, call (844) 511-3456.
Copyright: warrengoldswain / 123RF Stock Photo
Written by Steven Stiefel