You gotta have friends.
It’s not just a classic song, it’s good advice. There are many health benefits of social interaction, including reducing isolation, loneliness, and depression in senior adults. Staying socially active even when mobility and health concerns are an issue bolsters confidence, comfort, and emotional wellbeing.
How Important Is Socialization?
Social isolation negatively impacts both emotional and physical health. Seniors living in the community – at home or in group settings – have lower rates of depression, from less than 1% to about 5%, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Yet homebound or hospitalized older adults have higher rates of 13.5% and 11.5%, respectively.
Social isolation that results in depression also can cause physical symptoms. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, these may include memory issues, sleep issues, loss of appetite, irritability, and even aches and pains.
If any of these symptoms occurs without an obvious physical cause, consult your or your parents’ physician immediately.
The health benefits of social interaction include increased physical activity and emotional engagement, reduced isolation, and a more positive outlook.
How to Encourage Senior Friendship
Here are some ways to encourage more friendships and social engagement:
- Arrange transportation. If driving to events or gatherings is a problem, ask a friend or family member to pick you up, use a ride-hailing app or ride public transportation to visit with friends or attend other social activities.
- Blend socializing and exercising. Combine two beneficial activities with a group exercise class. Low-impact workouts help older adults remain healthy and strong, and the social connections made before and after are be just as beneficial. Learn more about how physical fitness helps senior health.
- Engage in shared interests. Many local senior centers and rec departments offer a variety of activities for older adults who share similar interests in lifelong learning, hobbies, sports or crafts. Consider taking classes with family members to strengthen generational bonds and encourage creativity.
- Participate in a faith community. Seniors who are religious find fulfillment from being active in faith communities. Many institutions offer rides to services and events, and some even have special groups and activities specifically for older adults.
- Find a support group. Many healthcare organizations sponsor support groups for seniors dealing with chronic health conditions, or for those who have lost a spouse or partner. Participating in these groups provides important connections and support for those feeling isolated by the circumstances in their lives.
- Leverage technology. Stay engaged with family, friends and groups using technology. Social media apps like Facebook enable you to interact with your family and friends, sharing photos and updates, and making comments. Messaging apps give you the ability to video chat with your relations and social circle at the touch of a few buttons, reducing the feeling of being left out and alone.
Use these ideas to increase social interactions and decrease the likelihood of depression. Establishing and maintaining friendships as we age increases our ability to stay healthy and active