Seniors who are socially involved in their communities tend to live longer, are in better physical health, and face a lower risk of cognitive decline as they grow older, research shows.
And interacting with friends and neighbors gives seniors a sense of purpose and belonging that can pay big dividends in improving their overall health. These social supports boost seniors’ quality of life, mental health, and feelings of well-being—which promotes healthy lifestyles and helps seniors cope with stress.
Taken as a whole, social involvement and strong relationships have the power to make seniors happier, healthier, and more independent.
Social Involvement Leads to Healthier Lifestyles
Friends have a way of filling our schedules and keeping us busy. All that activity keeps life interesting, and it contributes to healthy lifestyles that improve seniors’ overall health.
Overall, about 40 percent of premature mortality as well as substantial morbidity and disability in the United States can be attributed to negative health behaviors often found in seniors struggling with depression or social isolation, research shows.
On the flip side, being a part of an active social network promotes healthy behaviors like regular exercise, nutritionally balanced diets, and sticking to medical regimens. Simply put, having friends and neighbors around helps seniors make decisions that improve their health and prevent illnesses.
Going Deeper: How Social Interactions Improve Physical Health
Would you believe that having good friends can actually lower your blood pressure and help fight illnesses? It’s true, and it’s all about how we cope with everyday life stressors.
The immediate impact of stress is high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, and physiological responses. Over time, these responses can lead to a range of physical and psychiatric disorders in seniors.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation make it more difficult for seniors to cope with these stressors, which can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms like smoking, drinking alcohol, and excessive eating.
However, friends can help offset the negative impacts of stress through a concept known as “stress buffering.” Seniors with a sense of belonging and purpose in a larger social network are better able to cope with stress and anxiety, which reduces physiological stress responses and, over time, helps reduce mortality and morbidity, research suggests.
Social Involvement Is Shown to Help Prevent Cognitive Decline
Social involvement has shown great promise in helping prevent cognitive decline among seniors and in delaying or managing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
In fact, seniors who socialized frequently were shown to experience cognitive decline at a rate 70 percent less than seniors with low social activity, and socially active seniors who develop Alzheimer’s disease were shown to be able to live independently for longer than less socially active seniors, studies by the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago found.
And an unfortunate consequence of dementia is self-isolation among loved ones who are diagnosed. This often leads to anxiety, depression, withdrawal, and a lack of confidence that takes a toll on their physical health over time. However, socialization among people with dementia can delay its progression and improve overall quality of life, research suggests. Socialization leads to more self-worth, improved attitudes, better diets, and more physical activity—all of which can help loved ones with dementia stay independent for longer.
A Final Look: How Social Involvement Helps Keep Seniors Healthy
Social interactions have the ability to improve seniors’ mental, physical, and cognitive health. Social support systems promote active lifestyles that can improve seniors’ overall health. Being part of social communities has been shown to improve how seniors respond to and deal with stress, helping prevent health conditions that lead to early mortality and to morbidity. And social involvement can help prevent cognitive decline, delay the onset of dementia, and improve the quality of life for those who suffer from it. All in all, social involvement makes seniors happier and healthier for longer.