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Can Socialization Improve Health In Seniors?

Posted Jan 05 2010 11:29am

A number of studies have shown how socialization can actually improve the health and lower medical needs for seniors. Overall health was seen to be higher and the need for services from home health companies and assistant living was minimized with good socialization.

These studies show that seniors having social connections through family members, friends, social organizations, even companion animals is directly linked with their overall good health, prolonged survival from serious illness, and longevity in general. As seniors age, the need for socialization is even more important to help maintain overall good health.

Evidence of the connection between a strong social connection and good health include:

  • Studies show that people who are able to get out and interact and spend more time with people during cold/flu season actually get fewer colds and illnesses than those who spend most of their time alone.
  • People that have companion animals to interact have fewer illnesses that people who do not have a companion animal.
  • People who use words such as “I’, “mine”, and “me” often during casual conversation are more susceptible to heart attacks than those whose conversations don’t focus on themselves.
  • Our immune system has natural killer cell activity that is negatively affected by a lack of social support.
  • Our natural killer cells are more sluggish if we are lonely.
  • Feeling grateful for what we have in life is associated with better physical and emotional health.

The elderly can be at risk of isolation, which can directly affect overall health and longevity. If one spouse becomes ill, the other spouse tends to be the primary caregiver, which can consume much of their time. Caring for an ailing spouse can lead to isolation from the people and activities that were once enjoyed together on a regular basis. Seniors may also face the loss of a spouse. This event often further isolates you from some of the activities that you might have once enjoyed as a couple, as well as isolation from some of the friends that you interacted with together.
Seniors are also at risk of decreased socialization as they age if they can no longer drive. Giving up driving for many means giving up on independence and access to the people and activities they rely on for social support. It’s critical to take into account the importance of socialization as we age. Getting the personal care that is needed doesn’t have to eliminate the opportunity to maintain social connections.

Most communities have resources for seniors to foster good health and social connections. Many towns offer a variety of activities through local seniors’ centers, support groups, libraries, religious organizations and active retirement communities. For those unable live independently, assisted living communities and home care companies offer a variety of services. Seniors should be encouraged to participate in assisted living community activities and outings. Those living at home should be encouraged to look for the right home care company-one that recognizes the value of a support network and social connections. The elderly no longer need to sacrifice socialization for quality senior care.

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