The Loneliness Epidemic
Loneliness and social isolation are known to be as damaging to one’s health, as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and those over the age of 65 are particularly vulnerable (Health Resources & Services Administration, 2019). Social isolation is one of the main risk factors associated with worsening underlying health conditions, pre-existing conditions and is known to cause significant cognitive decline, depression and heart disease.
Consistent social interactions keep us mentally and physically energized and make our lives feel more meaningful. Social interaction benefits both our physical and our mental health. Social interaction helps keep senior’s minds stimulated, sharp and intellectually engaged. This stimulation helps to prevent cognitive decline, including memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and many forms of Dementias.
Physically, engaging in regular peer socialization helps to reduce stress, lower anxiety, reduce risk of depression, increases longevity and improves our self-esteem. Loneliness is a proven risk factor of functional decline and even death in older people. Loneliness is also a risk factor for high blood pressure. Poor social relationships were associated with a 29% increase in risk of coronary heart disease and a 32% increase in risk of strokes in 2018, and an estimated $6.7 billion in federal spending is attributable to social isolation among older adults.
The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing tested which type of social activities were of most benefit to seniors, individual and one on one social activities, versus group activities. The results, as reported by the Mather Institute showed that group engagement best predicted cognitive performance four years later. When solely looking at the impact of group and social engagement, only group engagement showed a statistically significant effect.
In 2018, Cigna conducted a survey which showed that almost half (46%) of 20,000 US adults questioned, reported often, if not always, feeling lonely. Our elderly suffer from isolation more than any other generation in history. Interestingly, although many are excited about the prospect of retiring and having the freedom to be introduced to new hobbies, a large portion of the retired population report a significant decline in their social lives once taking this step, mainly due to the removal of the mandatory interaction on a daily basis with colleagues. What was taken for granted while in the working world, is now terribly missed.
You’ve heard it time and again, staying physically active offers a variety of health benefits, like reducing chronic pain, preventing certain illnesses, and helping you recover faster from an illness or injury. And, while exercise is crucial for a higher quality of life, the connections you build will also have a significant impact in your overall wellness, specifically your morale and mood. Below, we outline a few of many benefits of engaging in social activities for seniors and aging adults.