Socialization and connection are important at any age, but they can have an especially significant impact on our quality of life as we get older. For many seniors, socializing and spending time with others can be more of a challenge than in younger years.
As children, we go to school or have play groups. We move onto college and early adulthood, where a significant portion of our time is eaten up with social activities. Then we settle down, possibly start families, and for many decades we’re surrounded by people who are close to us. Hopefully, there are also friends outside our immediate circle of family.
But as we get older, people grow apart. Kids grow up and start their own lives, and things have a habit of drifting away. Many seniors go days at a time only seeing their significant others, and those who have lost their partners often find themselves alone for long periods.
Socialization As We Age: Why It Matters
Life doesn’t make it easy to socialize as we get older. It’s tougher getting out to do things, and our lives aren’t naturally social. Despite the challenge of finding ways to be social, spending time with people is extremely important!
In general, socialization offers many benefits at all ages. Psychology Today lists the following benefits of socialization:
- Increased life expectancy
- Improved physical health
- Improved mental health
- Reduced risk for dementia
- Less risk of depression
- Improved overall quality of life
Socializing also keeps you mentally sharp and can help with physical fitness. Spending time with people whose company you enjoy is also emotionally uplifting.
Once we’ve raised our families, retired, and met most of our obligations in life, we’re left with a surplus free time. Ideally, we’ll be able to relax and enjoy this time, but many seniors struggle to find direction and purpose. A fulfilling social life can help make the later years of our lives as enjoyable as possible.
Health Benefits of Socialization As We Age
According to Medical News Today, socialization brings many health benefits! Increased socialization as we age can:
- Reduce stress
- Make it easier to handle stress when it’s unavoidable
- Improve cardiovascular health
- Boost the immune system
- Increase lifespan
- Improve fitness
- Reduce feelings of anxiety
- Ease symptoms of and help prevent depression
- Improve self-esteem
There are also cognitive benefits that come from socialization. Many seniors assume their cognitive health will naturally decline with age, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Seniors who make an effort to socialize tend to stay sharp and maintain their cognitive abilities later in life.
According to Healthfully.com, socialization also has long-term cognitive benefits. Seniors who prioritize their social lives tend to experience less memory loss and have a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. When socialization includes physical activity, the cognitive benefits are even greater. This means something as simple as going for a walk a few times a week with a friend or two could make life better and longer.
What if Socializing Is a Challenge?
As we age, it can be more difficult to leave the house. If you are in a retirement or assisted living facility, you might not have as much freedom to come and go as you once did. And if you’re experiencing physical ailments, getting out and about on your own can be a challenge.
Another challenge some seniors face when it comes to socializing is feeling uncomfortable or self-conscious about their memory. Cognitive decline can result in forgetting people’s names and other important information, and it can be embarrassing for seniors to admit they have an issue. They might feel as if they are letting their friends and family down as their memories slip. But not socializing can result in more memory loss.
There’s no need to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed if you aren’t as sharp as you once were. The important thing is to do all you can to maintain the cognitive abilities you have now. Chatting with others can help you remember names, faces, and information, and reduce anxiety. Relax and enjoy the company of others!
And keep in mind that if you’re socializing with other seniors, there’s a good chance they are dealing with similar concerns. You can spend time with anyone you choose, but if you are comfortable about keeping up with conversations, hearing everything that is said, or worried that your memory might be slipping, other people your age won’t be judging you. They likely feel the same way as you do!
Low-Stress Ideas For Seniors To Socialize More
The good news is there are plenty of ways to socialize without having to go out. You might also be able to interact with people in your area without driving or traveling far! A few socialization ideas for seniors who have limited mobility or ability to drive include:
- Try using technology like Skype or Facetime to have face-to-face conversations with loved ones
- Take walks through your neighborhood and stop to say hello to people you meet
- Babysit your grandkids or volunteer to help them with schoolwork or activities
- Sign up for a class at your local recreation center, library, or university
- Participate in a neighborhood or community group
- Invite a friend or family member over for coffee or tea
- Play cards or board games with friends or people in your community
Many of these activities not only provide seniors with opportunities for socialization, but they are also cognitive workouts. Imagine what a cognitive boost it would be to help a grandson or granddaughter with math homework.
Risks of Not Socializing
Socialization is so important for seniors that not spending time with others can actually have negative effects on your health. More than just giving you a boost, not socializing may actually hurt you in the long run.
According to PTSDJournal.com, some risks of not socializing include:
- Reduced Self Esteem. Research shows that people who are isolated tend to have poor body image and their self-esteem lowers over time.
- Depression. Isolation and avoiding people has been linked to depression. Studies show that going more than a day without interacting with people increases the risk of developing depression. This doesn’t mean you need to be running around with people day in and day out, but getting out with others a few times a week can significantly reduce your risk for depression.
- Increased Risk for Cancer. A study from the University of Chicago showed that isolated individuals had a higher risk of cancer. Multiple studies have shown a link between the lack of socializing and increased cancer risk.
- Reduced Brain Health. Not socializing enough has been linked to a decrease in cognitive abilities. There is evidence that the brain rewires itself when a person spends too much time alone, and it can be difficult to focus and engage in certain mental activities. There is also the potential for a person who spends his or her time watching television or movies without interacting with people to lose touch with reality. This can further increase the risk of depression.
- Unpleasant Physical Symptoms. People who spend a lot of time alone tend to experience chills and suffer an increase in inflammation, which is a condition linked to numerous chronic and potentially fatal health problems.
- Decreased Ability to Empathize with Others. It should come as no surprise that spending less time with people makes it more difficult to relate to and connect with them. Science confirms it. The more a person is isolated, the more difficult it becomes to feel attachments to others and experience love and affection.
- Reduced Ability to Cope. A lack of socialization reduces our resilience and makes it tougher to cope with circumstances in life. When we socialize, we feel supported and build relationships that will help us through difficult times. When those connections are missing, people tend to feel isolated and lonely, and their ability to deal with challenges and bounce back after tough times gets more difficult.
One of the most challenging things about socialization as we get older is the cycle it creates. The less a person socializes, the less he or she wants to socialize. Suddenly a day or two alone turns into a week, and it becomes a barrier too big to overcome. There is such a thing as too much socializing, and we all need breaks and time to be alone on occasion. But too much time alone can create a cycle of isolation that is difficult to escape. The earlier a problem with socialization is identified and dealt with, the easier it is to overcome the issue.
More Ideas for Socializing as We Age
Now that you understand the benefits of socialization as we age, it’s time to find new opportunities into your life to be social. Even those who have never been “social butterflies” can give some of these ideas a try:
- Focus on your grandchildren or other young members of your family. These are some of the most rewarding relationships we’ll ever experience in life, and spending time with a young person can keep you feeling young at heart!
- Volunteer and make time for others. In might feel awkward to make social plans, but if your goal is to do something of benefit to those in need, it can be much easier.
- Check into the resources in your community designed to help seniors be social. Senior centers, churches, and community facilities often hold parties, dances, and other events that are designed specifically for older adults.
- Consider adopting a pet. Though it might seem as if having a pet isn’t a responsibility you want later in life, having an animal in your home has a number of benefits. Some pets can also encourage you to get physical activity on a daily basis, but if you aren’t up for a dog, pets that remain indoors also make great companions.
Socializing in an Assisted Living Facility
Seniors living in a retirement community or assisted living facility have the added benefit of even more opportunities to socialize. Many of these communities organize events for residents and ensure that there are opportunities for everyone to leave their room or home and socialize.
Even if you are living in a less active community, it’s still important to get out and interact with others. If you are outgoing, consider organizing social activities for the residents of your community. If this isn’t something you’re comfortable doing, ask if someone else will do the legwork and you’ll provide the ideas. Events don’t need to be elaborate. Seniors can benefit from just a few hours a week playing cards, discussing a book, or sharing coffee or tea.
Remember, it’s never too late to socialize. You should never feel as though nobody wants to spend time with you, and it’s never too late to take action. And if old relationships have fizzled out, it’s possible to develop new ones based on current interests. Doing so will do wonders for your mental and emotional health.
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