The importance of social connection cannot be ignored, especially for seniors. For example, senior citizens are at higher risk of developing or worsening mental and physical illnesses, including depression, anxiety, dementia, cognitive decline, memory loss, and more (1). In fact, some studies suggest that at least one in four older adults experiences some mental disorder. The number of seniors with mental disorders is also expected to double by 2030. Would it surprise you to learn that social connection can prevent and reduce symptoms of all of these problems? In this article, you’ll learn about the importance of social connection for seniors, and how to make and keep these connections.
Social Connection is Vitally Important for Seniors
It’s true! In fact, here are just a few examples of the benefits of social connection for seniors.
- Decreased symptoms of depression
- Improved sleep
- Improved social cognitive skills
- Reduced inflammation
- Improved physical fitness
- Decreased risk for certain cancers
- Improved cardiovascular help
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced hypertension
These benefits are linked to the overall increased happiness and well-being people experience when they don’t feel isolated and lonely. Therefore, having a strong support network eases anxiety and depression. It’s much easier to stay physically active, sleep well, and take care of your health when mental illness isn’t weighing you down. However, knowing social connection is important and actually having these connections are two entirely different things.
How to Make and Keep Social Connections as a Senior
As a senior, making and keeping social connections can be difficult. Physical limitations, health issues, retirement, loss of loved ones, and changing social circles can make finding new friends or seeing old ones especially challenging for senior citizens. Here are a few ways you can overcome these challenges and make new connections or maintain old ones.
- Participate in local or neighborhood activities. For example, sign up for that cooking class or gardening class at your local library. Attend a neighborhood BBQ. Go to that church party. When you see opportunities to meet new people or connect with those around you, make sure to take them.
- Volunteer. Volunteer opportunities can give you a chance to get out of the house, serve others, and meet like-minded people who share your willingness to give back. Check out this post for the best volunteer opportunities for seniors.
- Stay in touch. Make an effort to stay in touch. Call the people you love and tell them you love them. You could send emails or letters, or get tech-savvy and video chat or text them. For families spread out over a larger geographic area, a weekly group video chat date is a great way to keep in touch. Apps like Zoom or Google Meet make this fairly easy for everyone.
- Host social gatherings. Bring the party to you! Invite your friends and family to a backyard barbecue or a family dinner. Having the people you care about in your home is a great way to prevent loneliness and help you feel connected. This can be a great option for seniors who are facing medical challenges that make leaving the house difficult. Order a few pizzas for delivery (or show off your healthy cooking skills) and let your loved ones come to you!
More Social Connection Ideas for Seniors
- Further your education. Did you know that many universities offer free or reduced-rate classes for seniors? Check with your local college and see what they can offer you. Continued learning has many benefits, and maybe you’ll even meet a fellow senior who shares your interests.
- Check online. While online connections aren’t a substitute for in-person interactions, they’re a good way to find people to meet up with in real life. Online support groups or local interest groups can be a great way to socialize without leaving the house. Or, if you’re single, try senior dating apps. Just make sure to stay safe online–never give out your address, credit card number, or other personal information to someone you don’t know in person. And make sure that if you’re meeting someone for the first time, you do so in a public place.
- Try a senior living community. Senior living is by far the easiest way to increase social connections for seniors. You’re surrounded by an entire community of people in the same stage of life as you, often facing similar challenges and problems. Communities offer group dining rooms and many activities where you can get to know your neighbors. If you’re feeling lonely, definitely consider senior living.
The Dangers of Loneliness
Recent data from the CDC shows that people who feel socially isolated and lonely are at greater risk of premature death from all causes. They’re also 50% more likely to get dementia, 29% more likely to have heart disease and 32% more likely to have a stroke. Loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly 4 times increased risk of death, significantly increased risk of hospitalization, and significantly increased risk of emergency department visits. (2) As you can see, loneliness and social isolation aren’t just inconveniences. Being lonely is literally dangerous for your physical and mental health and well-being.
If you’re feeling lonely, take action to remedy this right away. Go ahead and try the tips listed above. You could also talk to your doctor about counseling, which may help make it easier for you to improve family relationships and make new friends.
In conclusion, there’s no way to understate the importance of social connection for seniors. If you want to improve your physical health, mental health, and life in general, improve your social connections. Considering senior living? Tour a community near you today.