The recent advances in medicine have had a significant impact on our life expectancy making the elderly population one of the largest growing sectors of the present population. Furthermore, many studies are showing that family and social relationships play a key role in one’s health and psychosocial well-being.
People who have more social support tend to have better mental health, cardiovascular health, immunological function, and cognitive performance. Early studies reveal how being socially active can lead to greater health, life satisfaction, and life expectancy over time.
Some studies have stated that among different types of relationships i.e. social, marital, and family, marital relationships decrease stress levels and mortality rate more than the others. Scientists found that C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in older married men were lower than in their single counterparts. Furthermore, older adult relationships with children and family members do not carry the importance of a spousal relationship unless the person is unmarried.
On the other hand, loneliness and isolation can lead to health disparities and depressive symptoms. Some reports declare that some of the elderly have higher systolic blood pressure readings and cardiovascular issues due to the stress caused by feeling forgotten and isolated in their community.
Lack of socialization harbors risks including:
- Reduced self-esteem
- Increased risk of cancer
- Decrease in mental health i.e. in cognitive abilities (there is evidence that the brain, in people who spend too much time alone, rewires itself. So, they lose touch with reality and this can increase the risk of depression)
- Unpleasant physical symptoms like chills, suffering an increase in inflammation, and fatal health problems.
- Decreased ability to empathize with others.
- Reduced ability to cope with different circumstances in life and reduced resilience.
As we know there is lots of advice about how to keep the body and brain in optimal shape as the years go on. Obviously, to keep healthy one would need plenty of exercise, healthy food, and a positive attitude and mentality.
Scientists believe our brains are social organs, which means that we are wired to connect and interact in groups. Social interaction and interpersonal interactions are good for the brain at every stage, particularly for the aging brain. The effects of fear and anxiety on the brain tend to decrease as people grow older, helping them see social situations with less defensiveness and more clarity. What’s lost in quick recall and short-term memory is balanced by an ability to reflect and hold multiple perspectives at once.
Researchers have found that elderly people with more social ties tended to live longer regardless of their socioeconomic status, smoking and drinking habits, and physical fitness. They also have stated that social relationships help calm the stress-response system and those who spent more time cultivating social relationships display a significant drop in cortisol levels which helps them learn better, stay healthier and live longer.
There are many ways for seniors to socialize more:
- Take walks through the neighborhood and stop to say hello to people
- Babysit grandkids or volunteer to help them with schoolwork or activities
- Sign up for a class at the local recreation center or library
- Participate in a neighborhood or community group
- Invite a family member or friends for coffee or tea
- Play cards or board games with friends
Of course, the seniors who have mobility difficulties or who live in nursing homes can use technologies like VR with its wide variety of applications to socialize.
As a result, socialization matters as we age because it:
- Increases life expectancy
- Improves physical health
- Improves mental health
- Reduces risk for dementia
- Lessens the risk of developing depression
- Improves overall quality of life