Be a Senior Social Butterfly
Most seniors already know how to make the most of their golden years. They know it’s important to eat healthy food, to include daily exercise in their schedule, and to challenge their minds.
But recent research is adding another building block for healthy aging: be a social butterfly. Make new friends. Socialize regularly.
In a study designed to identify risk factors for future admission to a nursing home, researchers Jiska Cohen-Mansfield and Philip Wirtz tracked the lives of 200 seniors who were participating in an adult day program. The results, first published in 2006, concluded that lack of social contact was a significant risk factor for future admission to a nursing home.
Over the three-year period of the study, the seniors with the strongest social contacts were the seniors least likely to enter a nursing home. Social contacts kept them happier, more fit, and their minds more alert. Seniors who lived alone with limited social contacts were far more likely to deteriorate physically and mentally, resulting in nursing home admission.
Other studies also support the importance of social contacts:
- In 2007, Dr. Steven Cole published a UCLA study that showed loneliness decreases the efficiency of the human immune system;
- In 2006, University of Chicago researchers found a connection between loneliness, stress and high blood pressure;
- Studies in 2009 and 2008 found evidence that being socially active can help preserve brain function;
- Social networks help seniors cope with some of the challenges of aging, including pain, disability and illness; and
- Socialization encourages people to eat better, to exercise, and to learn new skills.
Humans are clearly a social species, with a need for social contact. From childhood on, we define ourselves partly by our relationships. But as we grow older, it can be harder to maintain social contacts. Children grow up and move away. People retire from work. Disabilities may limit mobility. A spouse may pass away. All these events can gradually erode social networks – unless the senior makes developing and maintaining relationships a priority.
Options could include involvement in local clubs, seniors’ organizations, service projects, or churches. Resurrecting old hobbies can provide new outlets for social contact. Learning something new can also build social contacts.
Another option which puts a senior in the middle of an established social network is moving to a retirement residence. Retirement residences surround seniors with new friends with whom they can enjoy shared meals and easily accessed activities.
Retirement Resident managers report the outlook of new residents improves dramatically after they move in. They start to sparkle and have increased zest for life.
They have daily contact with their peer group, especially at meals. Friendships form. They look out for each other. Many of our residents get together weekly for their own “happy hour”, or gather to visit on the patio and courtyard.
Some go shopping together and some go walking together. Whatever the activity, the social contact is a huge part of it. Having friends makes seniors feel good and live better.