Experts Prove Why We Must Focus on Relationships to Age Well
Since the 1990s, a field called “interpersonal neurobiology” has been emerging as a framework for studying how interpersonal relationships bear an undeniable influence on the human body, brain and mind. Ongoing studies in this field prove the fundamental role that social engagement plays in our lives.
Of course, being health conscious has long meant eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol, keeping our weight and blood pressure at prescribed levels and following the other usual recommendations. But now, with the rise of interpersonal neurobiology, many researchers, scientists and doctors now agree that human connection contributes just as significantly to our overall wellness.
Seniors, especially, can be prone to the negative effects of decreased engagement. We’ve seen seniors heavily impacted in recent years, as a result of the COVID pandemic and social distancing measures. Isolation and loneliness caused them declining health and a great deal of suffering.
Read on as we discuss why human connection factors so strongly in aging well. We’ll explore vital insights from the interpersonal neurobiology experts who explain the importance of relationships to enjoying healthier, happier and longer lives.
The Science Behind Staying Young Through Socializing
Dr. Louis Cozolino, who practices psychotherapy and consulting psychology and is also a professor at Pepperdine University, explains some of the biological reasons why we human beings require social engagement.
How crucial should we consider socialization? In his book Timeless: Nature’s Formula for Health and Longevity, he states that, “Of all the experiences we need to survive and thrive, it is the experience of relating to others that is the most meaningful and important.”
Dr. Cozolino continues, “As social animals, our brains are built through reciprocal interactions across the social synapse. Being a member of a complex society requires a brain equipped to process a vast amount of social information and adapt to a changing constellation of relationships. Nurturing, caretaking, and playing all trigger a symphony of processes that promote health and well-being. For humans, our relationships are our most important habitat.”
“As highly interdependent creatures with interdependent brains,” he adds, “it would make great sense that the health and longevity of our brains would be influenced by our active involvement in all our relationships.”
The many changes that seniors experience typically diminish their ability to create and maintain quality relationships with family members and friends, and among people in their wider community. And yet, this human connection becomes absolutely vital to their health and well-being as they age – and is the secret to staying young.
Solitary Living Increasingly Threatens Seniors
Susan Pinker, a developmental psychologist and social neuroscience researcher, notes a startling statistic: More and more Americans live alone, at a rate that’s been climbing every decade since the early 20th century. Unfortunately, seniors comprise a substantial percentage of this population.
In her book The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter, Pinker writes, “While living alone doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re lonely, 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.”
She further notes that “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.”
It stands to reason that this loss would seriously impact seniors’ physical, mental and emotional health. And Pinker does find that, “Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic head injury.” She says, “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.”
Social Engagement Benefits Body and Mind
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) cites research linking social isolation and loneliness directly to a wide variety of physical and mental conditions. Seniors face greater risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease – and even early death.
Moreover, the NIA states, “People who find themselves unexpectedly alone due to the death of a spouse or partner, separation from friends or family, retirement, loss of mobility, and lack of transportation are at particular risk.”
“Conversely, 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.”
According to Bryan D. James, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, higher levels of social interaction can positively impact seniors in a significant way. Throughout their studies, he and his colleagues revealed that an older individual who experiences high social activity levels maintains a 43-percent lower rate of disability and about a 50-percent rate of cognitive decline than someone experiencing low social activity levels.
James sums it up in evolutionary terms: “When you use your brain and body the way it was intended – as it evolved – you age better. We just aren’t meant to be disengaged from one another.”
An Effortless Method for Expanding Seniors’ Social Involvement
Now, perhaps more than ever, it is imperative that seniors seek opportunities for social engagement. Whether living solo, feeling alone or lonely or heading toward an isolated existence, they may need a lifestyle change.
By moving into a senior living community, they will strengthen their hardwired human connection. Thanks to the built-in network of friends and neighbors, senior living residents can achieve that plentiful, quality social time – and develop those strong relationships – proven to be essential to their overall health.
Face to face on a daily basis, they bond over new and favorite hobbies and interests, shared meals, activities and events, and purpose-building endeavors. With such an abundance of human touchpoints at their fingertips, they gain a wonderful advantage in a longer lifespan boosted by better happiness and well-being.
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.