In our younger years, it’s perhaps easy to take for granted just how much we human beings are social creatures. We reside in households, as family units, and in neighborhoods and a wider community and society. We go to school and worship together. We work as part of a team. We automatically spend many of our days alongside fellow humans, and this kind of group living enables us to survive – and thrive.
Then as time goes on, we may suddenly or even slowly find ourselves alone, or at least less connected with other people. This could be due to retirement from a job, to our family members or friends moving or passing away, to a spouse’s or partner’s death, to declining mobility or inadequate transportation, to avoiding unsafe contact during the COVID pandemic, or to another cause.
Unfortunately, research shows that senior citizens are particularly vulnerable to social isolation, which can wreak devastating effects on their minds, bodies and spirits.
So, why is socialization important for elderly people? And what can we do to ensure they maintain those fundamental, personal relationships? Below, let’s delve into the reasons, as well as possible solutions
Personal Relationships Are Essential for Seniors to Enjoy Healthier, Happier and Longer Lives
First, we should discuss the unexpected risks of dwindling socialization. Research supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) links social isolation and loneliness to a vast array of physical and mental conditions. They include high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease – and even an early death.
On the other hand, the NIA states, “people who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others tend to live longer, boost their mood, and have a sense of purpose. These activities seem to help maintain their well-being and may improve their cognitive function, studies show.”
Since the 1990s, a field called “interpersonal neurobiology” has been emerging as a framework for studying how interpersonal relationships can affect the human body, brain and mind. Research confirms the vital role that human connection plays in our lives. In fact, many scientists and medical professionals believe that social integration and close relationships can contribute to longevity in the same way that eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking and alcohol consumption and other commonly known healthy contributors do.
Human Beings Require Hardwired Connections
Among the researchers’ work we consult is that of Susan Pinker, a developmental psychologist and human behavior columnist for The Wall Street Journal, who 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 references a critical link between real, in-person contact and the ability to find happiness, to learn, to be resilient and to enjoy a long life.
She illustrates how human beings are hardwired to connect with each other, whether through simple social bonds or through close personal relationships. Because in the bigger picture, every contact in our real-world social circle helps create a complete “village” of family, friends and community. Crucially, we truly need these connections in order to survive and thrive.
Pinker notes that more and more Americans live alone, at a rate that’s been rising every decade since the early 20th century. Sadly, senior citizens comprise a substantial percentage of this statistic.
“While living alone doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re lonely,” Pinker explains, “it does mean that like it or not, you have less physical proximity to other human beings whom you care about and who have an interest in your survival – fewer impromptu conversations, fewer shared puns and jokes, and, of course, less physical contact.”
At the heart of this lesson: “People who are solitary are deprived of the daily pats, hugs and eye contact that primates have been using to communicate for at least 60 million years.”
Naturally, Pinker finds a seriously negative correlation with seniors’ physical, mental and emotional health. “Without sustained social interaction,” she says, “the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic head injury. And, “If we don’t interact regularly with people face-to-face, the odds are we won’t live as long, remember information as well, or be as happy as we could have been.”
How Can Seniors Find Ways to Socialize?
As we’ve seen, it’s all too easy for seniors to slip into isolation and loneliness – and imperative that they seek as many chances as they can to tap into that hardwired human connection. For aging adults, this could entail a purposeful lifestyle change and a move into a new, shared environment.
Senior living communities provide a perfect solution to a lack of socialization. Every day, residents gain the numerous benefits of face-to-face interactions. In a safe, companionable setting, they can embrace incredible opportunities to build relationships with their neighbors, as well with a compassionate, supportive staff.
The best senior living communities are designed to aid residents in:
Boosting their social engagement.
Encouraging more frequent interactions with others.
Exploring new and long-loved hobbies and interests together.
Sharing meals, activities and outings.
Joining in stimulating discussions.
By making the most of the human touchpoints already built into senior living communities, residents can achieve myriad more advantages they simply wouldn’t by living on their own.
Count on a Trusted Senior Living Expert
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.
Choose one of our local communities and schedule a complimentary visit to see for yourself how our residents thrive. Or learn more with our free, valuable resource, “Your Elementary Guide to Senior Living and Care Options in Texas and Oklahoma.” Get your copy now.