Think about the last time you hung out with people you enjoyed being around, that made you laugh and with whom you shared interests. How did you feel? Energized? Excited? Now think about the last time you realized it had been a while since you got the chance to see friends or be around people you cared about. How did you feel? Lonely? Deflated? Like your energy had been sapped? Now picture feeling like this every day. It’s a common feeling for many seniors who live alone and is why a rich social life is so important for aging adults.
When we are young, socialization helps develop who we become as a person, and in our older age, socialization can help maintain that. If we lose that, whether it’s due to a health condition that keeps us inside or a decline in friends due to death and illness, it can have a profound effect on our lives and our health.
Experts have labeled loneliness almost as harmful to our health as smoking. According to an article in the Journal Sentinel by Mark Johnson, studies have found that one in 10 Americans live alone and the rate of loneliness in seniors is 35% or higher. And loneliness can lead to a handful of other problems including, poor sleep, high blood pressure, depression, cognitive deterioration, and stress.
The answer to loneliness is socialization. And, given the fragile state of our health as we age, maintaining a strong social life to help prevent extra health issues is particularly important as we get older.
Connecting with friends, talking, and laughing all stimulate the brain. Having something to look forward to every day offers a positive outlook on life and encourages a healthy mental state. This boost in brain activity offered by a connection with others can actually help slow (not cure or stop) the onset of dementia or alzheimers.
And, those who take the time to see friends and make a point to connect, are more likely to participate in the physical activity that will maintain a healthy body weight, strengthen the heart and slow the onset of many other ailments that can plague us as we age. Simply knowing that there will be someone else there to participate in the activity with, can make anyone more likely to get and move (like an accountability partner at the gym!).
This connection and interaction with others is one of the key reasons many family members decide that an assisted living facility is best for their loved one or why many seniors make the decision to move to a more accommodating community. Injuries in our old age can often confine us to wheelchairs and limit our mobility. Assisted living facilities provide all the benefits of an active, social, community, without the hassle of travel.
Activities don’t even have to be extremely physical to be beneficial. Playing cards or games with friends, making something together, group move time, or simply chatting over a cup of coffee are all beneficial to the mental health of seniors, therefore spilling over into their physical health.
So, as your loved one ages and finds it harder to get out and see friends, it’s important to begin thinking of ways to help them remain socially active. Whether it’s making sure they have frequent visitors, providing transportation to and from events, or looking into assisted living facilities that will provide a social community right at their fingertips; any activity is good activity.