Severe fear and anxiety. Intense stress. Overpowering social isolation. Sound familiar? With the onset of the global COVID pandemic – and its lingering influences still experienced today – a great many of us discovered the damaging repercussions of being separated from one another. Although clearly done to protect our physical health, quarantining revealed just how critically we all need face-to-face contact, and it renewed our appreciation and longing for personal interaction.
But for a long time, really, the scientific and medical communities have emphasized the importance of human connections. Repeatedly, experts demonstrate the surprising benefits of socializing, especially for seniors, supporting their cases with robust evidence that it’s linked to better overall health, as well as a longer lifespan.
Below, we’ll discuss this topic in more detail, showing how community living can benefit seniors – and each and every one of us.
Getting to Know The Village Effect
Susan Pinker, a developmental psychologist and human behavior columnist for The Wall Street Journal, writes and speaks on her extensive social neuroscience studies. In her book The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter, she ties in-person contact with the ability to learn, find happiness, be resilient and live a long life.
Pinker explains how human beings are hardwired to connect with each other. Whether via basic social bonds or deep, close personal relationships, every genuine touchpoint in our real-world circle provides another link in a complete “village” of family, friends and community. It’s essential to note that we desperately require these connections in order to survive and thrive.
Reflect on the following statistics that Pinker relays. She says that social contact…
Is a massively powerful, biological indicator of how well people can think, remember facts and impede brain disorders, including dementia
Impacts people’s physical resilience (e.g., their likelihood of catching colds and how long those colds last, how well their bodies fight infections and even how fast malignant tumors grow).
Influences how people fight disease. In fact, a prospective study of 4,000 women with breast cancer, which examined every aspect of their lifestyles, indicated that the greatest predictor of survival over a 10-year period was the size of their in-person social networks.
Is an even more powerful indicator of health and longevity than physical exercise – even surpassing whether or not a person smokes.
Incredibly, frequent social contact adds years to such a degree that people with active, in-person social lives may be rewarded with a lifespan advantage of 2 to 15 years!
Moving into the Blue Zone
You may have heard before that women tend to live longer than men. Research does show that in nearly every developed nation, women outlive men by an average of 5 to 7 years. A major contributing factor: Women often have much more expansive social lives.
But there’s good news for the guys, too. In her work, Pinker pinpointed a spot on the map where men live just as long as women do – a remote, mountainous area of Sardinia, an island off of Italy’s southern coast.
This location is referred to as a “Blue Zone,” one of the world’s regions where a higher-than-usual number of people live much longer than average, and are healthiest. The stats show there are six times more centenarians living on Sardinia than on the mainland of Italy – and an astounding ten times more than in Europe and the United States.
What’s one of their secrets? In Pinker’s visit to this Sardinian village, and in her related studies, she revealed the amazing effects that dwelling in such a tight-knit community has had on the health and longevity of its senior residents.
Linking Loneliness and Social Isolation with Shorter Life Expectancy
One meta-analytic review examined data from 70 separate research studies comprising a total 3.4 million people who were, on average, 66 years old at the launch of their study. What it exposed about the connection between loneliness and mortality was astonishing: “Actual and perceived social isolation are both associated with increased risk for early mortality.”
Among its many findings:
Over an average 7-year period, people who reported being lonely were 26% more likely to have died than those who didn’t.
The mortality risk was 20% higher for people who were socially isolated than for those who weren’t.
The mortality risk was 32% higher for people who lived alone when compared to those who didn’t.
These negative effects on longevity were the same for all people who experienced loneliness, whether they were really alone or they simply felt alone.
These statistics signal a sad reality. Seniors who spend their time alone – whether really being alone or even just feeling alone – risk an earlier death. And as American cultural norms loosen the close bonds of family, friends and community, and create more distance from reliance upon them, we can only expect this problem to intensify and become ever more widespread.
Living in a Senior Community Provides the Solution
Unless they make a concerted effort to stay connected to a human-to-human network, seniors will inevitably encounter huge challenges with remaining socially active. Consider the intrinsic companionship they lose, once they conclude their years of being an employee, a sports team member or coach, a parent to a young child or a contributor to some other group or organization.
But that doesn’t mean they have to spend their golden years alone, or feeling lonely.
Socializing for elderly people comes easily and abundantly when they reside in a senior living community. There, they enjoy built-in opportunities to develop relationships every single day, with their neighbors, the staff, volunteers and visitors. Besides the continuous, numerous possibilities for conversation and laughter, seniors can cultivate friendships while participating in stimulating activities and events. They can rekindle a fulfilling sense of purpose and motivation during group fun, including art, gardening and cooking classes, fitness and wellness programs, book club and lots more.
The best senior living communities will focus on relationship-centered care. In these environments, the team members realize that a family-type approach truly transforms a place into a warm, welcoming home. They understand the intricacies and difficulties involved with caring for seniors, and strive to foster personalized, compassionate relationships with both residents and their loved ones. By doing so, the staff plays an essential role in helping residents navigate the journey of aging and feel that they are a valued part of their community.
Count on a First-Class Senior Living Expert
If you or your loved one could benefit from a supportive “village,” it may be time to consider senior living options in your area. Cardinal Bay provides independent living, assisted living and memory care communities in Texas and Oklahoma. In a highly social, relationship-centered environment, our residents experience a wealth of stimulating activities, ultimately leading to healthier, richer and more fulfilling lives.
Be sure to tour the communities you like, and speak with staff members and residents to guarantee you have all the vital information in hand to make the best decision.