The Benefits of Being Social for Older Americans

In Communication, Family & Relationships, Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Roselynn Gamboa Young, Au.D., CCC-A

Roselynn Gamboa Young, Au.D., CCC-A

Are you worried that a senior in your life is not getting enough social activity? Sometimes obstacles get in the way of engaging in social life when we get older. It’s easy to let physical limitations get in the way of social engagement, and it might just feel like a hassle. Compound those physical limitations with bad weather, and your loved one might resist any attempt you make to get out and about. However, we know that a wide variety of benefits await those who have rich social lives as older Americans. Let’s consider two parallel paths. In one case, a person who experiences social isolation can have some negative effects on a variety of health outcomes. In the other case, seniors who engage in social activity experience mental and physical benefits for their health and well being. With these two possibilities in mind, we can consider some of the possible social outlets to get connected once again.

Social Isolation

There are many reasons that seniors become socially isolated, many having to do with mobility and access to resources. Though few would say they prefer to avoid social life, some of the obstacles feel overwhelming, and the path of least resistance is to stay at home. However, lack of social activity is correlated with some negative outcomes. If we consider mental health alone, those who have less social activity have higher rates of depression. The problem with these two dimensions is that they tend to feed into one another. Those who stay home tend to feel more depression, and those who are depressed just want to stay home. On the other hand anxiety can lead to the same social isolation. Feelings of fear, nervousness, and agitation can make a person want to avoid encounters altogether.

Social Connection

As opposed to these negative effects of social isolation, those seniors who have higher rates of social activity reap a wealth of benefits! Not only are symptoms of depression and anxiety relieved, they can have better stimulus for their cognitive health. Physical health is affected, as well. Just getting out and about in the world brings a certain level of physical activity that a person does not experience when they spend too much time at home. In addition, social activity has been correlated with lower rates of some physical maladies. Not only the expected conditions of cardiovascular problems that have to do with physical activity, but also rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis have a relationship with social life. Though it is puzzling, some cancers even have a correlation with a lack of social activity. The benefits of socializing are truly incredible! With such a wide array of benefits available, let’s take a moment to think of some possible outlets for our social energy as seniors.

How To Get Connected

If you or a senior in your life lacks social connections, there are a number of opportunities right at your fingertips. Community organizations and social clubs are a simple place to start. Nearly any hobby you can imagine has a social group or club associated with it, and you may just need to do a little digging to figure out where your group meets. Don’t stop with the official organizations, either. Asking around about others who enjoy the same activities can lead to an entire social network of similarity. Perhaps your interest can also lead you to a volunteer possibility. Take, for example, an interest in quilting or crafts. If you have expertise and interest in these fields, you might want to share your knowledge in a volunteer capacity. At a retirement community or assisted living facility, you can pass along your skills to others who might be interested, helping them get to know the things that give you joy. You might even want to take the opportunity to share your favorite activities with younger people and family members. You might be surprised how much a grandchild, niece, or nephew would enjoy the same activities you do, even a simplified version of quilting or crafts. The key is to take action in a social direction. The possibilities for building new connections are truly limitless once you simply engage take a step out into the community.