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The Benefits of Relationships and Connection for Seniors

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As people age, they tend to slow down socially. They don't go out as often or not at all. Family members attempt to fill that gap, but many seniors live far away from loved ones. Before they know it, isolation becomes a seemingly comfortable habit and an unavoidable way of life.

However, to promote overall well-being, seniors must cultivate strong relationships. Socializing isn't just vital for emotional well-being — it's a key factor in mental and physical health, as well. 

Let's examine some studies and statistics that show how seniors lead more wholesome lives when surrounded by friends and family.

A Breakdown of Senior Home Life Statistics

Unfortunately, socializing is easier said than done for most seniors. According to an Administration for Community Living analysis of senior living conditions, about 28% of seniors live alone. The same analysis reports that:

  • 35% of seniors have some sort of disability
  • 33% of senior women are widows
  • 11% of senior men are widowers

For younger people, living alone doesn't seem like such a big deal. Many are in school or have jobs that promote social interaction, but seniors lack those built-in day-to-day connections.

Social Isolation is Damaging to Senior Health

Seniors living alone don't just suffer from loneliness. They're also at a higher risk of suffering from potentially fatal accidents and health emergencies. The CDC reports seniors suffering from loneliness are:

  • 50% more likely to suffer from dementia
  • 29% more likely to have heart disease
  • 32% more likely to suffer from a stroke
  • Four times as likely to pass away from heart failure
  • 57% more likely to require emergency medical care

When seniors go days without seeing friends or family, they're more likely to not get the help they need. If they have an active social circle or live in a senior living community, someone is more likely to be around during a medical emergency.

Socializing Improves Brain Function

While an active social life guards seniors against medical emergencies, it also does wonders for their cognitive functions. In a study conducted by the Center for Healthy Aging at Penn State, researchers found that social interaction improves brain function. On the same day or the day after social interaction, seniors demonstrated better spatial memory, attentiveness, and working memory.

Because memory-enhancing drug therapies are often unreliable, healthy relationships are vital to seniors' brain health.

Dementia Is Less Prevalent in Socially-Active Seniors

Strong relationships aren't just important for short-term cognitive function. During a study of over 2,000 senior women in California, researchers found that seniors with a lot of active relationships were 26% less likely to develop dementia. Medical professionals aren't entirely sure why this is, but they have some strong educated guesses.

When we interact with other people, our brains have to work quickly. We process what others are saying, develop responses, and become emotionally engaged.

This is why social interaction and a lot of it is so important for seniors. During the same California study, some seniors with one or two close connections reaped the benefits of social interaction, but seniors with more relationships seemed to do better.

Socializing Encourages Healthier Habits

Social interaction is beneficial in and of itself, but it may also encourage healthier habits. Due to limited mobility, isolated seniors often lead sedentary lifestyles. While younger people are more able to seek out friends and start new hobbies, many seniors can't or don't know how to find such engaging activities.

That's where a big friend circle comes in. As a group, seniors can join exercise classes, start new hobbies, and seek out senior-oriented events and volunteer opportunities. For seniors limited by health issues or intimidated by going out alone, a large social network may open them up to a world of fun, engaging activities they would otherwise be disconnected from.

Social Seniors Have More Independence

While older people certainly appreciate help and visits from family members, they may be stubborn about asking for help. While they know their loved ones care about them, they also know family members lead their own lives.

Their children have jobs and children of their own. Their grandchildren are often busy with school and their own social lives. Even though it's not true, seniors may see themselves as a burden to younger family members.

A senior with a group of friends they call every day might be more likely to ask them for help. Their friends are closer to their age and have similar schedules and needs. They know when they lean on them, they're not disrupting anyone's schedule. This gives them much more independence to try new things and get out of the house more often.

Where Can Seniors Find Friends and Build Relationships?

Research about the positive impact of social interaction on seniors is encouraging, but given the statistics about how many seniors live alone, where are they supposed to find friends? A large friend group is great, but developing one is quite a challenge.

Fortunately, there's a wealth of social opportunities for seniors in many communities:

  • Churches offer volunteer opportunities and intergenerational activities that keep seniors ingrained in their communities.
  • Senior centers feature activities that open up a world of new hobbies for aging adults.
  • Many colleges and high schools offer classes to seniors at a heavily discounted rate or for free.

To serve a large number of seniors, many of these institutions also offer transportation.

Who Benefits the Most From Increased Social Engagement?

Seniors at any age or level will benefit from increased social interactions. The natural progression of age makes it difficult to maintain our social circles and remain engaged in healthy relationships.

As we age, it’s helpful to seek out ways to help us stay connected. It may be even more difficult to maintain healthy relationships, but no less important if you’re already in good mental and physical health. Bottom line, all seniors of any age or ability will benefit from seeking out resources and accommodations that will help them meet their social needs — at any level of senior life.

Consider an Active Senior Living Community

A continuing care retirement community (CCRC) comes with a built-in support system that will help maintain existing connections and keeps seniors who might be struggling in this area healthier and more active. 

With 24/7 support from trained caregivers, retirees in senior living communities have more time and energy to devote to building relationships. All hours of the day, they're surrounded by like-minded people.

Retirees that move to a senior living community with a solid circle of friends already in place will also enjoy the benefits of having the resources and extra time to meet new neighbors and expand their social circle. 

At Friends Fellowship Community in Richmond, Indiana, seniors can spend their days participating in active daily schedules, make new friends, and receive the care they need. For more information about our socially-stimulating atmosphere, contact us today.

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