As you age, it can be difficult to be as socially active as you once were. You might find yourself making excuses or giving friends a rain check on social gatherings. However, this kind of social avoidance can lead to serious consequences for your physical and mental health. Take a look and see why socialization is so important for aging adults.
Why Don’t Seniors Socialize?
It’s common for seniors and older adults to socialize less than when they were younger. But why? For some, it’s because of decreased mobility. When it’s hard to drive or get in and out of vehicles, or if you need to use a walker or wheelchair to get around, going out and socializing becomes a demanding and laborious task.
In addition to struggling with mobility, seniors can find themselves having much less energy throughout the day and becoming exhausted quickly — making evening dinners and events tiring rather than invigorating. It also becomes more difficult to navigate unknown environments, so staying at home becomes a preferable option to going out.
For some seniors, there are more than just physical barriers between themselves and socialization. As adults age, it can become more and more challenging to be emotionally available for family and friends. Seniors may be upset at their condition or frustrated in general, and want to avoid interactions and isolate themselves thinking that will be the better option. However, the opposite is true. Socialization is critical for seniors, and not just with family — but with other seniors, too.
Socialization Lowers Rates of Depression
Depression is unfortunately a common mental health problem among seniors. Senior depression is usually brought on by the loneliness or guilt seniors feel when they isolate themselves as they age. Symptoms include:
- Lack of energy & motivation
- Feelings of sadness or despair
- Difficulty sleeping (or sleeping much longer than normal)
- Feelings of self-loathing
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Slower movement & speech
- Increased abuse of alcohol
- Neglecting personal care (like showering, grooming, or eating)
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Thoughts of suicide
While older adults who feel this way might not want to socialize, isolation always makes depression worse. Socialization provides opportunities to learn, converse, laugh, and be stimulated—all of which can make depression more bearable for seniors. Socialization can also decrease the odds of getting senior depression at all.
Remember, if you are at all concerned that you or a loved one is suffering from depression, get help and speak to a professional right away.
Socialization Improves Memory and Can Help Prevent Dementia
Over the years there have been countless studies that have linked a lack of socialization to an increased risk of dementia and other memory diseases. As adults age, it’s important that the brain remains stimulated and engaged. Socialization can help seniors maintain proper cognitive function by exercising their brains in different ways then it works while someone is alone.
In fact, a recent study suggests that interactions with friends (who are not relatives) can decrease dementia risk by as much as 12%. Socialization decreases the stress on the brain that can slow down mental functions, and well as create a “reserve” of mental energy, all while promoting healthy behavior and interaction.
It’s important that your brain doesn’t just sit in your head as you age, and socializing with others can challenge your cognitive thinking and functions in helpful ways that build brain strength and endurance.
Socialization Makes Seniors Happier and Healthier
It’s not just mental health that can be improved with socialization—it can also help boost your physical energy as well. Studies have made connections between lowered social activity and high blood pressure, and some new theories are suggesting that high rates of social interaction can lower the chances of osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease in older adults.
Most importantly, social interaction makes people happier. Seniors who are socially active are more likely to be physically active as well, and they are less stressed, have longer lifespans, and have greater self-esteem than seniors who are isolated.
Social Opportunities Near You
There are plenty of ways for you to be social, or to help a loved one stay social as they age. Opportunities for socialization include:
- Senior hobby groups (like gardening, bird-watching, cooking, or collecting clubs)
- Walking or senior sports groups
- Using social media and technology
- Activity groups (like arts & crafts, movie watching, or book clubs)
- Group health activities (like music therapy or meditation)
Senior living communities like assisted living give people plenty of opportunities to grow socially without needing to find ways to leave home or travel to other locations. Because of the group environment and daily activities in senior living, there are plenty of ways to cultivate new relationships and meet people socially without dealing with stress.