Aging Well – Stay Connected, Stay Social, Stay Young

Tuesday, October 25, 2011
By Mr. Noah Kaminer, Administrator

One of the greatest challenges to aging is that often the senior’s social network changes. Retirement, illness, death, can take away close friends and family members, as can moves to other cities or even other countries. Staying connected isn’t always easy—even for those who have always had an active social life. But one of the primary factors to aging well and maintaining a full and meaningful life is to stay connected to others.

Experts on aging have long suspected that socialization improves physical and emotional well-being, increases mental alertness and encourages a more active lifestyle. New research studies confirm these benefits and even claim that regular and consistent human interaction lessens the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, promotes heart health, improves symptoms of depression, and lengthens life expectancy. Recently, Harvard researchers reported that socializing is just as important for seniors as regular exercise. When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks. Loneliness and isolation are clear threats to aging well.
The good news is that there are lots of socialization opportunities within the community if the senior is willing to make the effort. Often, seniors are reluctant to make this effort and wait for someone to come to them. Getting involved in the community or joining other organizations soon after a spouse’s death or after retirement can mean the difference in seniors falling into a depressed state or enjoying a healthy mix of friendships and outside activities. It doesn’t matter exactly what one does, as long as they are able to get out of the house and enjoy time with other people, the benefits will be recognized.

If possible, the senior should try to spend time with friends and family who they enjoy, who can make them feel upbeat. It may be a neighbor to take a morning walk with, a lunch date with a grandchild, or a shopping excursion with an old friend. Even if children and old friends do not live close by, keeping in touch on the phone can make the senior feel included and connected. Sharing old memories is the best medicine to keep someone up beat and positive about life — as is creating new memories.

All seniors should make a conscious effort to continually make new friends so their social circle does not diminish. These new friends can be other seniors with common interests, but some of them should also be younger. Younger friends can be reenergizing and can help the senior see life from a fresh and different perspective. Regardless of the friends’ age, seniors should have regular face to face social contact with at least one person every day to ward off depression and stay positive. If the senior is going through a specifically challenging time, whether it is a chronic illness, a recent loss, or another life challenge, a support group can be a helpful way to find new friends who can understand their stresses and challenges. Within these groups, the senior will find support and friendship, in addition to socialization opportunities.

Being around people who have the same interests will help a senior enjoy their lives even more. Joining an activity that’s new or challenging, such as a dancing class or a baking club, are especially helpful for seniors because they are able to participate in an activity while meeting new friends. Volunteering or performing a chesed is also a wonderful way to strengthen social bonds and meet others at the same time, while finding purpose and fulfillment. Volunteering is a natural way to meet others interested in similar activities or who share similar values. Even if a senior is housebound, they can still volunteer by making phone calls.

Everyone needs contact with others who share common interests and opinions, everyone needs to feel a sense of belonging. But, as we age, socializing with others becomes more important than ever. It can contribute to a healthier body, a sharper mind, and lead to a longer life. Getting out and socializing with others is the best medicine that seniors can take to live a fuller and richer life.