As we age, it is natural to experience reduced socialization. Reaching retirement age means that contact with former coworkers may be reduced. The loss of friends and family members as we continue aging can have a large impact on socialization as well as mental and physical well-being.
Environments that support and enhance senior socialization, such as senior living communities, are crucial. In fact, one of the most overlooked benefits of senior living communities is the abundance of social opportunities. Managed and staffed by people who understand how important socialization is to mental and physical well-being, these communities are designed to increase socialization and enhance connections between neighbors in order to support positive aging. Here’s what you need to know about why senior socialization is critical for positive aging and overall wellness, and how socialization can be supported.
Reasons Why Senior Socialization Is Important
Anyone can feel isolated or lonely, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic that has isolated us all. Seniors especially have struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic. As we age, our social circles naturally start to shrink for various reasons, and the pandemic extremely decreased senior socialization. The pandemic has also brought to light the connection between senior socialization and overall wellness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one-fourth of adults 65 years of age and older are socially isolated, and more than one-third of adults 45 years of age and older feel lonely. An individual’s mental state has an impact on the biological processes in the body, and this can lead to negative health consequences.
For example, social isolation and loneliness have been linked to conditions such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, stroke, and an increased risk of dementia. Social isolation has even been linked to an increased risk of hospitalization and premature death. Depression also takes a physical toll on the body and has been shown to increase the severity of chronic illnesses, worsen disabilities, and raise mortality rates. Seniors with depression are also more likely to take more medications and visit the emergency room more often.
Socialization is one of the most effective ways to improve mental health. It has been shown to improve mood, memory, cognition, and healthy habits such as exercise. To improve socialization and depression from social isolation, there should be daily opportunities for social connection, such as planned activities, classes, or volunteer opportunities. Volunteering can be especially helpful because seniors increase their socialization while helping others and being a part of their community, which can make them feel like they have greater purpose along with giving them more to look forward to each day.
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Stress can affect all parts of someone’s life, including physical health, thinking ability, emotions, and behaviors. Stress is inevitable, and a little stress every now and then is nothing to be concerned about. However, long-term stress can worsen health problems such as mental health conditions, cardiovascular diseases, and gastrointestinal problems. Stress is a natural part of life, and what matters most is how it is handled—and socialization can go a long way toward relieving stress.
Socially active seniors are able to handle short- and long-term stress more effectively than their less-active peers. When a senior is spending time with people they enjoy being around, they feel more relaxed, comfortable, and welcome. When someone is socializing, their blood pressure and heart rates may become reduced, which reduces the risk of stroke or heart attack.
A better ability to handle stress can also lead to an improved immune system, improvements in cardiovascular health, and the ability to handle stressful situations, which can result in being better able to avoid the effects of chronic stress.
Loneliness is not categorized as a specific disease, but it is connected to negative health outcomes, including cognitive impairment. Social activity has a significant impact on cognitive decline and memory. When people have frequent social contact, their rate of cognitive decline is approximately 70 percent less than in people who are socially isolated.
Research increasingly shows a connection between loneliness and the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Those who are frequently lonely between 45 and 64 years of age are more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease later. However, recovering from loneliness during these integral years can make an individual less likely to develop these conditions later in life.
The length of time during which a person feels lonely also matters. For example, those who recover from loneliness within a few months may experience different health consequences than those who suffer from loneliness for years.
Senior living communities such as Cedarhurst recognize the importance of socialization in memory care and offer programs designed to make socialization easier. For example, residents gather together multiple times each day over meals, and enrichment programs and events provide opportunities for residents to connect with each other.
Physical activity has multiple health benefits for seniors, including socialization. Socialization and physical activity may seem like they are not related, but the opposite is true; seniors with high levels of socialization and diverse social support systems are more likely to incorporate regularly scheduled physical activity into their daily habits.
As we age, our metabolism changes, our risk for osteoporosis becomes greater, and our bodies accumulate more fat instead of muscle. Physical activity can greatly improve quality of life along with helping to reduce these age-related changes. Exercising can also help build stronger muscles, meaning seniors can keep doing their daily activities longer without becoming dependent on others.
Group exercise classes can help widen a social circle by encouraging contact with others. This is especially important at the beginning of a new move to a senior living community. To help foster this kind of contact, these communities are full of amenities such as swimming pools, nature trails, and group exercise programs.
Taking advantage of these amenities can help seniors adjust to their new surroundings by giving them a way to strike up a conversation with others and discover shared interests. Additionally, knowing that some friends are going to the exercise class or pool on certain days can help with adhering to an exercise regimen. Outside of senior socialization, other benefits of regularly scheduled physical activity include improved mental clarity, reduced risk of falling and bone injuries, and reduced risk of dementia, depression, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Though physical activity is important for positive aging, it is important to start with low-impact exercises. When an exercise regimen hasn’t been a part of a daily routine, it’s important to take it slow and gradually incorporate an exercise routine, especially considering bones become more fragile as we age. Activities such as walking, swimming, and cycling are good low-impact activities to start with, and then aerobic exercise and strength training can gradually be introduced.
Learn How Cedarhurst Can Build Social Circles
At Cedarhurst Senior Living communities, team members form relationships with each resident and provide personalized support. We know that socialization is important for each resident’s well-being and have created an environment that supports and enhances social circles.
Learn more about how Cedarhurst Senior Living can support social health. Then, experience the social benefits of Cedarhurst by scheduling a tour of a community near you. We’d love to welcome your loved one into our community!