Like a poppy at dusk, our world began to close. Large groups no longer gathered. Then small groups couldn’t either. We were restricted to connecting physically with only those we shared a home with. Strangers and friends kept at least six feet away. For those living in long term care, the prospect was grimmer. With visitors banned and many relegated to their rooms, the hum of daily life grinded to a halt. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, feelings of isolation and loneliness were plagues visiting our land. Now, more than ever, prioritizing socialization and belonging is of the utmost importance.
8 Health Benefits of Socialization
Humans are social beings. We crave connection and belonging. The health benefits of socialization can drastically improve our lives.
1. Mental Health. Socialization can help improve our mental and emotional health. Studies show - and wisdom confirms - being social decreases depression. Socialization also improves overall mental health.
2. Confidence and self-esteem. People who report feeling lonely often have lower confidence and self-esteem. Spending time with those whose company you enjoy can be confidence-boosting. Being with people we care about helps us to see ourselves as having a place in the world. We also benefit from having an outside perspective on ourselves. The feedback we get from those we love boosts confidence and self-esteem.
3. Increased quality of life. Studies show that loneliness and senior health issues have been correlated, and that loneliness is a risk factor of functional decline, and death in older people. Making sure we stay social and connected can not only extend the length of our lives but the quality of them as well.
4. Reduced blood pressure. Loneliness is a risk factor for higher blood pressure. These effects compound the longer the loneliness continues. Socialization is the antidote to loneliness.
5. Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s. Feeling lonely can raise the risk of cognitive decline. “Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease was more than doubled in lonely persons compared with persons who were not lonely.” Reports researchers in JAMA’s Psychiatry journal.
6. Boost immunity and other physical health benefits. Socialization can reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
7. Increased brain health. A University of Rochester Medical Center study found socialization boosts cognitive function. Conversations and stimulating activities for seniors like card and puzzle games with others exercise the brain and keep it agile.
8. Promotes purpose. Spending time with others helps us feel useful and that our life has a greater purpose. When we have something to do, somewhere to go, and someone counting on us, it feels good. Being around people we love makes life more fulfilling. When others count on us, we are more likely to take care of ourselves, and stay healthy for as long as we can.
7 Ways to Combat Senior Isolation
Now that we know the benefits of socialization we can use them as motivators to make changes in our lives. As we get older structural and internalized ageism and stigmas among seniors can make socialization more difficult. There are lots of tried and true, as well as emerging, ways to stay connected. These will help during this current pandemic and beyond.
1. Make new friends. A robust social network helps us access the health benefits of socialization. Throughout our life friends will come and go, but making new friends is essential at every age. During earlier years, new friends are often made through school and work. As we get older, finding social interactions for seniors may need a bit more deliberate action to find and make new friends replacing those we lose. Not sure where to look to find these new friends? Try finding them based on:
- Proximity. Get involved through neighborhood groups. You can find some on Nextdoor. “Nextdoor is the neighborhood hub for trusted connections and the exchange of helpful information, goods, and services.”
- Interest. You can find people interested in the same things as you on Meet-up. A roster of “local groups to meet people, try something new, or do more of what you love.” Many are offering virtual meet-ups during physical distancing.
2. Find a like-minded community. This community could be faith or cause or activity-based. Think about what matters to you and seek out a community of folks who share your interest.
3. Get creative on how to stay in touch with the friends you have. There are many new technologies to help you connect in new ways to your friends and family members.
- Video Calls. Platforms such as Zoom allow you to have video calls with your friends and family.
- Telepresence. Ohmni combines a video call with a remote control robot. This allows you to be in the space with your friends without them being stuck to the computer. With Ohmni you can move around a space and control where you are looking. It creates a much deeper sense of ‘being there’ than traditional video calls.
4. Virtual Reality. One company, Rendever, is overcoming social isolation through the power of virtual reality and shared experiences. From senior living communities to hospitals, this platform is being used to reduce depression and loneliness by fostering personal connections amongst populations where life has become limited.”
5. Social media. People are using social media in more and more creative ways. Social media can work like medicine to heal social isolation. Being mindful of how you use social media can help you to increase your connectedness.
6. Socialization focused organizations. Want a little extra support staying socially active? There are organizations designed to help foster connections, particularly across generational lines. Here are a few. More and more are popping up every day.
- Papa is a website and organization that “pairs older adults and families with Papa Pals for companionship and assistance with everyday tasks.”
- Little Brothers “advocates for elders who are isolated and at risk by developing long-term companionships to provide greater well-being and stability, promote independent living and instill a sense of belonging.”
- Sāge “fosters intergenerational connections through knowledge sharing in private one-on-one classes.”
- Cirkel is “an intergenerational platform to close that loop through events in different cities, as well as a membership called CIRKEL Up, which curates monthly 1:1 introductions across generations."
7. Plug into the culture change movement. A big part of why socialization is so challenging as we age, is because of ageism. There are lots of organizations working to change the way we as a culture view and treat aging. Getting plugged in with these organizations can help you meet like-minded folks. Be part of the solution to the problem of isolation. Here are a few of these organizations, many of which are having virtual offerings during this time.
- The Eden Alternative is “dedicated to creating quality of life for Elders and their care partners, wherever they may live.”
- The Pioneer Network “inspires culture change, supports innovation, and provides opportunities for learning.”
- My Life, My Stories “shares the life legacies of older adults through the power of intergenerational relationships.”
- Dementia friends - “is part of a global movement that is changing the way people think, act, and talk about dementia. Anyone can be a Dementia Friend – we all have a part to play in creating dementia-friendly communities!”
When we are feeling lonely, socializing can feel daunting or impossible. Loneliness can become a downward spiral. When you feel that pull, remember the benefits of socialization. Try some of these easy ways to make new connections and deepen existing ones. During this pandemic, we are all more isolated. We need more than ever to reach out a hand to each other and stay connected.