Tribune Print Share Text

Another reason to socialize

Created date

March 2nd, 2018
Three women sitting around a table laugh while drinking from mugs

A thriving social life could be the key increased wellbeing

More of us are becoming aware of the need to stay engaged and connected with others as we age in order to stay as healthy and independent as possible. Increasingly, scientific evidence is reinforcing the association between social engagement and good health. Research is also revealing that social isolation and loneliness can lead to a decline in health.

Social engagement is often a greater challenge for seniors as retirement, the death of a spouse or close friend, or health problems can contribute to a sense of loss, loneliness, and isolation. This can be compounded by the fact that many seniors live alone and may not be able to get out easily because of health problems. Interestingly, social isolation and feelings of loneliness peak among young adults and also in the oldest old.

Impact of loneliness

Research has shown that loneliness may raise levels of stress hormones and inflammation, which can increase the risk of heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and dementia. The ability to perform activities like bathing, grooming, and preparing meals declines faster among those who experience loneliness compared to individuals who feel connected. Even socially isolated individuals who do not feel lonely have been found to have a greater prevalence of sleep difficulties and a faster rate of cognitive decline.

Becoming socially isolated or lonely often happens gradually. Thus, it can be difficult to know if you have a strong enough social network. One clue is to assess your mood: Do you feel lonely or depressed? Do you find yourself being alone most days of the week? Are you experiencing symptoms such as appetite changes, sleep difficulties, or persistent lack of motivation? The key is to recognize feelings and take action.  

So what can be done? In addition to checking in with your physician on how you feel, interacting with others in person is most beneficial. Combining this interaction with some kind of physical or mental activity is even better. Simply taking a walk with a friend is an excellent form of socializing. Playing cards or participating in a book club discussion are also great ways to socialize. Enjoying a weekly dinner with your kids and grandkids can certainly lift your mood. Using the computer or talking on the phone can be useful in between other face-to-face activities.

Community and facility-based initiatives can be helpful, and these programs are becoming easier to find. Check your local department on aging, recreational councils, places of worship, and community centers for upcoming activities and events.

We all thrive on spending time with those we love and participating in activities of interest. Now we know these activities are healthful by preventing social isolation and feelings of loneliness. Please make the effort, take the time, and catch up on the people and things that you enjoy or find a new activity and make a friend. You’ll surely feel better for it.