As seniors age, they risk becoming isolated for many reasons, including retirement, family and friends moving away, or the death of a spouse. The loss of close social connections doesn’t just affect seniors’ mental and emotional health; it can also take a toll on physical health, with numerous studies linking isolation to a higher risk for chronic and fatal diseases like high blood pressure and heart disease.
But the reverse is also true: socializing helps seniors stay emotionally, mentally and physically fit. Social relationships, including those that can be formed in senior care communities, are integral to seniors’ health and well-being, and can help them live longer, healthier lives. In fact, in one fascinating TED Talk about “super longevity” in Sardinia, Italy—where there are ten times the number centenarians as in North America—proposes the most powerful indicator of a long life is social interaction.[i]
The benefits of socialization for seniors
Increasingly more research studies are discovering just how vital socialization can be for seniors—it can boost mood, improve nutrition, and even help reduce physical pain and lower blood pressure. [ii]
Harvard School of Public Health has found that people with strong social connections tend to have better health behaviors, like eating healthy foods and being physically active.[iii] And a study published in the Scientific American revealed that adults can get a 50 percent boost in longevity if they have a solid social network. [iv]
How social activity can slow memory loss and Alzheimer’s
A study by the American Health Care Association reports that 42% of assisted living residents have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.[v] This number is only expected to increase, with more than 14 million Americans to be diagnosed with a form of dementia by 2060, and is the 6th leading cause of death among adults 65 years or older.[vi] Given its growing prevalence, it’s important to examine the link between socialization and its ability to stave off the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, women age 78 and up who had larger social networks and more frequent contact with others experienced less cognitive decline than those without.[vii] And in a study conducted by the University of Exeter School of Medicine in the UK, just one hour of socialization a week can improve the quality of life and reduce the agitation for those with dementia.[viii]
Possibly most compelling is a study by the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, which measured the impact of social activity on cognitive decline, found that the rate of cognitive decline was 70 percent less in people with frequent social contact than those without.[ix]
Senior-living communities designed for socialization
For many aging adults, the key to increasing socialization may be to choose to move to a senior living community. With shared activities and programming led by experienced staff and a built-in network of peers with generationally similar life experiences, residents can stay engaged and build deep social connections.
Wherever one lives, research is clear that socialization has a documented impact on the quality–and length—of life.