Studies Connect Socializing With Quality Of Life

 The relationship between physical activity and vitality is well-documented, but multiple recent studies have also revealed an increasingly stronger link between social interaction and mental and physical well-being for those age 55+.

While socialization is critical for all people, regardless of age, those age 55+ can be more susceptible to isolation. Many have spent a considerable portion of their lives in the company of others – be it in the workplace or raising children or both.  For those age 55+, possibly being single, relocating, children leaving the house, retirement…..the opportunities for socialization often decrease.

Research has indicated that an active social lifestyle is more important than ever in helping maintain a sharp mind, remain connected to the world around them, increase feelings of happiness, and develop a sense of belonging.

Various studies have shown that socializing can produce the following positive effects:

Improved mental health: Symptoms of depression and memory problems are comon. In fact, approximately seven million people over the age of 60, experience symptoms of depression  and it is estimated that dementia touches at least one in seven people over age 70.  Having consistent human contact and interaction can reduce both, recent studies revealed.

One such study, appearing in the Annals of Family Medicine, gathered 193 mature adults with depressive symptoms and provided either individualized physical activity or social visits for six consecutive months. Researchers concluded that: “Social contact may be as effective as physical activity in improving mood and quality of life” and “social participation and social support networks are paramount to long-term positive outcomes and psychological well-being.’

Another study that appeared in The American Journal of Public Health demonstrated that those aged 50 to 60 who were socially active had slower rates of declining memory. “The working hypothesis is that social engagement is what makes you mentally engaged,” Lisa F. Berkman, the study’s senior author, told the NY Times. The American Academy of Neurology studied the relationship between dementia, stress, and socialization and found that “people who are socially active and not easily stressed may be less likely to develop dementia”. 

Improved nutrition: The need for proper nutrition is vital, but healthy habits can be difficult to maintain when eating alone.  Socializing with others and sharing a meal is a motivator for better food choices.  Noone likes to eat alone on a regular basis and often meals are skipped or are not sufficient in nutrition.    

Improved physical health: Multiple studies have also revealed that an active social life can boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, and reduce physical pain that is reinforced by depression.

Strength in numbers: When it comes to socializing, the more the merrier. Those in large groups are more likely to encourage healthy habits among each other, including exercise, and there is always someone to talk to when you need support. 

How can those age 55+ stay socially connected?

While it’s comforting for mature adults to know they have family, sufficient social interaction includes participation or consistently engaging with others, the best being with peers.

Making that call or reaching out to join an organization can be difficult. It is often uncomfortable to step out of our current comfort zone.  It may take some gentle encouragement to get more socially involved, but the benefits of an active social lifestyle reach well into the future.

Laura Kay House, MA, is the founder and owner of Silver Connections, located in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Silver Connections provides numerous socializing opportunities through events and travel, quality members and new connections for age 55+, active and single adults.

http://www.silverconnections.org

Advertisements

Older Adults, Loneliness And The Holidays

Although the holiday season is supposed to be a time of sharing joy and good tidings, very often people—especially those who are older—find that, as the season unfolds, they feel progressively disappointed, stressed and sad.

There are many influencing factors that can contribute to seniors being at particular risk of suffering from the “holiday blues,” including:

  • Reminders of past losses of significant loved ones–Many seniors have survived a number of their cherished friends and family members and these losses often take on greater significance during the holidays.
  • Sadness over the contrast between “then” and “now”—For many older people, the memories of holidays past so outshine present day celebrations they feel unable to focus on or experience pleasure in the “now.”
  • Unrealistic expectations—the holidays can bring a host of expectations, such as family togetherness, festive events and feelings of expanded happiness. Reality too often falls short of these expectations, which can cause an individual to plummet to new lows of sadness, feelings of loneliness and despair.
  • Spending the holidays alone—Some seniors live by themselves and/or at a distance from friends and family and spend much, if not all, of the holidays alone. Grown children often become busy with their own social obligations and may not realize how much their parents or grandparents look forward to sharing time during the holidays with them.

If You Are An Older Adult Feeling Lonely This Hoiliday Season:  

The following strategies can be useful in helping to get around potential sources of the “holiday blues”:

  • Adjust your expectations—For example, if you think the perfect family get-together won’t be a part of this year’s holidays, keeping this realistic assumption in mind can help you avoid frustration when and if something should go wrong or be less than desirable when your family gets together.
  • Limit predictable sources of stress—If you feel the annual trappings of shopping, decorating, cooking and attending social events risks becoming overwhelming and stressful, limit the activities you commit to.
  • Seek new, enjoyable ways of getting physical exercise—Exercising, for example, aerobics, walking, skiing, hiking, yoga, or swimming can help burn away a lot of stress as well as the extra calories of holiday meals.
  • Get together with friends and family members—As much as possible, share the holidays with friends and family members in person, as well by phone, e-mail, and mail. The holiday season is also a good time to contact someone you have not heard from for awhile. For those who have recently suffered the loss of someone especially close, spend time with special friends and family with whom you can reminisce and share stories and cherished memories about your loved one.
  • Join a social group—Feelings of loneliness and isolation can often be remedied by participating in activities with others. This can also help in opening up the potential for making new friends.
  • Engage in volunteer activity—Helping others is a pretty foolproof method of making the holidays feel more meaningful. There are many volunteer organizations that need extra help during this time of year.
  • Adopt a pet—Many have found that assuming the responsibility of caring for and loving a pet brings new joy and companionship into their lives.
  • Remember that life brings changes–As families change and grow, traditions often need to adapt to the new configurations. While you can hold onto certain family rituals, for instance, a certain holiday activity or preparing a long-cherished family recipe, some traditions, such as everyone gathering at your house, may not be possible this year. Each holiday season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by comparing this year’s holiday season with the “good ol’ days.”

Though intense and unsettling, the holiday blues are usually short-lived and last a few weeks around the holidays.  The sadness usually subsides after the holiday season is over and the individual gets back to their normal routine. 

If you know of an older adult who is feeling sad this season, reach out to them.  You can help them to enjoy the present, reflect positively on the past, while encouraging them to stay connected to others. This may be the best gift you can offer them during the holidays.

Laura Kay House is the owner of  SILVER CONNECTIONS, a socializing group for single, active, age 55+ adults.  Numerous socializing opportunities are provided through local events and travel while stressing personal service and a sense of community within the membership.      www.silverconnections.org

Socializing Is Important To Avoid Or Reduce Aging Diseases

If you did not have an active social life in the early parts of your life, chances are that you will become even more socially withdrawn as you get older, and probably more inclined than ever to stay home alone.

But, did you know an active social life can help you to prevent some aging diseases?

Socializing ranks right up there with diet and exercise on the “aging” ladder of importance. Sometimes, when an individual retires or a spouse dies, friends withdraw simply because the person doesn’t fit in anymore with their lifestyles.

Rather than keeping busy and finding other friends or methods of socializing, seniors often develop depression which can lead to other diseases such as alcoholism, heart disease and even cancer.

It’s been proven that individuals who enjoy an active social life can extend their lives by years. There are an abundance of benefits for socializing other than life extension-stress reduction, a feeling of importance and high self esteem are just a few of the benefits.  Keeping active also reduces the risk of mental diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Sometimes seniors must make the effort to become involved rather than waiting for someone to come to them. Getting involved in the community or other organizations can mean the difference in isolation and depression or enjoying a healthy mix of friendships and outside activities.

Being around people who have the same interests help those age 55+ enjoy life even more. Laughing and creating new memories are the best medicines to keep from thinking and focusing on the negatives in life. Joining an activity that’s new or something challenging is especially helpful.

Most of us rely on human contact for our very survival, unlike other species in the animal kingdom. From the time we’re born and depend on our mother and father to feed and take care of us until the later years, when we still need others. 

It’s not surprising that as we age, socializing with others becomes more important than ever. We need contact with others who either share our interests and opinions or have interests and opinions that are entirely new to us.

Remember that when you socialize with others in your age group, you are also helping others as much as you are helping yourself, so feel free to become a regular ‘social butterfly’ to assist in staying healthy, connected and happy in the “55 and better” years!

Memory and Social Interaction

If you can’t remember where you put your keys….find them and then go meet friends for dinner!

Strong social ties, through friends and community groups, can preserve our brain health as we age while social isolation is an important risk factor for cognitive decline in those age 50 and over.

Socializing with people is a form of exercise that requires attention, effort and alertness, all of which are important aspects of memory. Of course, socializing is also an important feature of preventing or reducing depression.

Information is stored in different parts of memory. Information stored in short-term memory may include the name of a person you met today while information stored in your remote or long-term memory includes things stored years ago, such as memories of childhood.

When you’re in your 20s, you begin to lose brain cells a few at a time. Your body also starts to make less of the chemicals your brain cells need to work. The older you are, the more these changes can affect your memory.A memory problem is serious when it affects your daily living. If you sometimes forget names, you’re probably okay. But you may have a more serious problem if you have trouble remembering how to do things you’ve done many times before, getting to a place you’ve been to often, or doing things that requires steps. Certain medications, stress-related activities, injuries and other factors may also cause memory loss.

Aging may affect memory by  not only changing the way the brain stores information and by making it harder to recall stored information.

Another difference between normal memory problems and dementia (a more serious type of memory loss) is that normal memory loss doesn’t get much worse over time. Dementia may get much worse over several months to several years.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health used data gathered from six years of data from the Health and Retirement Study, a large, nationally representative population of American adults ages 50 and older. Participants took memory tests at two-year intervals during the study period. Testers read a list of 10 common nouns to survey respondents, who were then asked to recall as many words as possible immediately and again after a five-minute delay. The researchers also measured social integration and engagement in activities with others.

The results showed that individuals who in their 50s and 60s who engage in a lot of social activity also had the slowest rate of memory decline. In fact, compared to those who were the least socially active, study subjects who had the highest social integration scores had less than half the rate of memory loss.

“The working hypothesis is that social engagement is what makes you mentally engaged,” said Lisa F. Berkman, the study’s senior author and director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. “You can’t sit and withdraw if you’re constantly talking and engaging with others. It’s not just completing a crossword puzzle, it’s living your life.”

One of the most difficult challenges for mature adults is maintaining or finding relationships with people from their generation who share their interests, experiences and hobbies.  Whether you are retired or not, there are many things you can do to prevent  loneliness and make connections with others.  It can be as easy as joining a group with interests that match your own.  This social interaction is essential to healthy brain health.

God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” –  James Matthew Barrie

Caregiving And The Importance Of A Social Network

When a person takes on the responsibility of taking care of an ill family member, it is a job that can very easily consume them.  The most common caregivers are ones that take care of a sick parent or spouse.  

Caregiving can be stressful and may contribute to serious depression. A substantial body of research shows that family members who provide care to individuals with chronic or disabling conditions are themselves at risk. Emotional, mental, and physical health problems arise from complex caregiving situations and the strains of caring for an ill relative.

The child or spouse is immersed in their family member’s illness and they can easily feel a sense of isolation.  Caregiver burn-out is common and it is important to avoid this sense of aloneness.  

Socializing with others can have a positive effect on caregiver stress. Arrangements can be made for the caregiver to take a break from caregiving to attend socializing events, possibly be enlisting the help of other family members, friends or a daycare center.  Socializing is vital to relieve stress and possible caregiver depression.

The positive effects of socializing include:

Having social activities to look forward to give a caregiver something to see in the future beyond the day to day chores.

Spending time with people helps ward off loneliness and knowing one is not all alone helps with stress.

Having people who enjoy your company and consider you a friend, reinforces your feeling of being a good person to spend time with.     

Attending a movie, theater production, book club or other activity, takes a caregiver’s mind off of responsibilities and focuses on another interest they may have.

Dining with a group of people who are happy and enjoying fun conversation, proves that laughter can be the best medicine!   

Engaging with others can stimulate thoughts and clear one’s mind.

Meeting others who are also caregivers or who have been caregivers in the past, who can offer support and advice.

Caretaking is not something that has to be taken on solely alone. Just because an individual is taking care of an ill parent or spouse does not mean that interaction with others has to stop.  This is the time that caregivers need a social network and connections more than ever.

Courage

After being one-half of a couple for decades, those who find themselves single again after age 55, can face incredible loneliness and despair.  Whether it is because of death of a spouse or divorce, starting over again alone can cause overwhelming  anxiety.  

Everyone deals with their grief in their own way. Many find that meeting with others who are also suffering through a loss, is a help.  Others find time with family is a way to cope, while others spend hours alone dealing with their sorrow.

It takes time to adjust to the absence of a long-time partner in any situation, but there will eventually come a time when the sadness lifts and an individual is ready to enjoy social activities again.  They realize that they may have 15-20 years of life left to live.  Many times the friends that they currently have are married or having moved to a new city to be close to family, but knowing no-one else, can be isolating.

I have met many individuals in my work  that are in the very beginning stages of this process. When I first meet with them, you can see the sadness in their eyes and tone as they discuss their partner who is no longer with them.  But, at the same time, I see the willingness and desire to begin their life again while no longer being part of a couple.   Whether because of a death or divorce, they are trying to reinvent themselves alone, after 55.

This is where the courage comes in.

How many remember having to do something for the first time and the anxiety that comes with it?  If you are on the shy or introverted side, it makes it even harder.  Did you ever have to move and start a new school where you did not know anyone?    Or, how about going away to college or starting a new job where you were all alone?   Who will I talk to?  Will everyone be friends and I will be ignored?   Will they like me?  Do I know how to act in this new environment?

Add those types of fears onto someone who is older, who is attempting to make new friends and engage in life without their “other half” for the first time in many, many years.  

It is much easier to stay home and feel safe, wrapped in the memories of the partner who they are living without.  It takes courage to do what is necessary to go on.

I have seen time after time how difficult it is the first time one of my Silver Connections members attends their first event.   How easy it would be to turn away and just leave!  They consider it, they begin to turn back, but they don’t. 

In spite of the fear and the anxiety, they know it is time. They will never forget the memories of the past or the person they shared such a large part of their life with.  They put their hand on the door, open it,  and with courage….begin to take the first steps to live life again.