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

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The Importance Of Socializing And Friendship As We Age

 Socializing ranks right up there with diet and excercise on the “aging ladder” of importance. It’s been proven that those age 55+ who enjoy an active social life can extend their lives by years. Lack of socializing and friendships can lead to depression and even alcoholism, heart disease and cancer.  

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 an individual must make the effort to become involved rather than waiting for someone to come to them. It can be especially difficult after being a part of a couple for many years and then being single again. Getting involved in the community or  joining a group can mean the difference in being depressed or enjoying a healthy mix of friendships and outside activities.  

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

A new research study from Harvard University advocates that socializing for boomers and older has as much benefit as regular exercise. Feeling needed and helpful is extremely mind-lifting and can impact quite  positively an individual’s life.

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 even have interests and opinions that are entirely new to us.

Remember the movie, Cast Away, when actor, Tom Hanks played a man alone on a desert island. He becomes so lonely that he creates a buddy by drawing a face on a ball he found. In the end, he mourned the loss of the ball much as we would a friend or family member. Deprived of socializing, we  feel isolated and alone.  But, having friends and  making those connections, can make all the difference in the world.

Laura Kay House, MA, is the founder and owner of Silver Connections, located in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Silver Connections promotes socializing opportunities for active, age 55+, single adults.

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!

These Things I Wish for You

If you have read the following essay before, you may attribute it to Paul Harvey.  However, Mr. Harvey did not write it.  The true author is Lee Pitts, who had it published in the 2000 “Chicken Soup For The Golden Soul” collection.

Paul Harvey used this particular essay (crediting Pitts) during a September 6, 1997 broadcast. Listeners loved it and it has since become a classic and been passed between grandparent to grandchild, parent to child, friend to friend.

 

THESE THINGS I WISH FOR YOU

“We tried so hard to make things better for our kids that we made them worse. For my grandchildren, I’d like better. I’d really like them to know about hand me down clothes and homemade ice cream and leftover meat loaf sandwiches. I really would. I hope you learn humility by being humiliated, and that you learn honesty by being cheated. I hope you learn to make your own bed and mow the lawn and wash the car. And I really hope nobody gives you a brand new car when you are sixteen. It will be good if at least one time you can see puppies born and your old dog put to sleep.

I hope you get a black eye fighting for something you believe in, I hope you have to share a bedroom with your younger brother. And it’s all right if you have to draw a line down the middle of the room, but when he wants to crawl under the covers with you because he’s scared, I hope you let him. I hope you have to walk uphill to school with your friends and that you live in a town where you can do it safely.

On rainy days when you have to catch a ride, I hope you don’t ask your driver to drop you two blocks away so you won’t be seen riding with someone as uncool as your Mom. If you want a slingshot, I hope your Dad teaches you how to make one instead of buying one. I hope you learn to dig in the dirt and read books. When you learn to use computers, I hope you also learn to add and subtract in your head.

I hope you get teased by your friends when you have your first crush on a girl, and when you talk back to your mother that you learn what ivory soap tastes like. May you skin your knee climbing a mountain, burn your hand on a stove, and stick your tongue on a frozen flagpole. I don’t care if you try a beer once, but I hope you don’t like it. And if a friend offers you dope or a joint, I hope you realize he is not your friend. I sure hope you make time to sit on a porch with your Grandpa and go fishing with your Uncle.

May you feel sorrow at a funeral and joy during the holidays. I hope your mother punishes you when you throw a baseball through your neighbor’s window and that she hugs you and kisses you at Christmas time when you give her a plaster mold of your hand. These things I wish for you – tough times and disappointment, hard work and happiness. To me, it’s the only way to appreciate life.”

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.

“You’ve Got To Have Friends” The Importance of Socializing For Those Age 55+

There was a song that was made popular by Bette Midler in 1973 called “You’ve Got To Have Friends”.  Friendships and socializing with others is important at any age, but especially in the 55+ years.   

I would like to tell you about a lady that I know named Jane.  At 70 years old, she has a vibrant social circle.  Though she has been widowed for many years, has at times struggled financially and has lost a son, she is rarely lonely.  Her friends and her social interaction has kept a sparkle in her eye, warmth in her laughter and bounce in her step.  Jane is a perfect example that one of the secrets of successful aging lies in our friendships with others.   

Not everyone has the social structure that Jane has; whether it is because of relocation, divorce, widowhood, retirement, or just a shift in friendships, both men and women may suffer from loneliness as they grow older. How can social interaction affect overall well-being?  

Having lots of friends and social connections is very good for your mental and physical health. A massive study of 4,725 age 55+ randomly selected residents of Alameda County in California found that those with the fewest close friends and social connections had mortality rates that were two to three times higher than those with high levels of social connectedness. Also, life expectancy tables show a difference of nine years between people with very poor social connections and those with very good ones. Friendships and continued socializing as we age creates a feeling of belonging, a buffer against stress and a sense of purpose in feeling needed by our friends. When a friend reflects to us that we are loved and valued, our thoughts about ourselves rise in a corresponding matter.  

Close friendships, through protection against isolation, provides benefits such as maintaining the elasticity of blood vessels, maintaining healthier blood pressures and lowering cardiac inflammatory protein levels. Friendships can also encourage health–promoting behaviors like proper sleep and exercise, and friends will let you know when they don’t approve of your smoking or eating too much.  Friends also help out when you need a ride to the doctor or bring over soup when you have a cold.  

Scientists have long observed that a lack of social interaction and friends, by contrast, is also major risk factor for disease and early death, comparable to high blood pressure, obesity, and other serious health risks. “Being socially isolated is comparable to the negative effects of smoking for your health,” says James Coan, PhD, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Virginia. “Lonely people tend to react more intensely to life’s problems and feel more threatened by a difficult situation. This in turn may cause high blood pressure, increase in heart rate, sleep disturbance and depression. “ 

 Scientists are also finding out that we are hardwired to seek out others. Too much alone time and our bodies send out distress signals. When a person feels lonely, their brain responds by increasing the levels of the hormone cortisol. Over a long period of time, this hormone can harm us by destroying neurons that affect memory and interfere with sleep.  When people experience social exclusion, it activates the same region of the brain when we’re physically hurt.  Humans require others to survive and feel distress when they are isolated. 

 My friend Jane lives so well as she has grown older because she cultivated her old friends and has stimulated her mind by getting to know new ones.  She has never forgotten, beyond anything else, that we all truly need each other.