Older Adults and the Importance of Social Interaction
As you get older and retire or move to a new community, you may not have quite as many opportunities to socialize as you did when you were younger.
If you're not heading to an office or getting out and about each day, you may be missing out on important social interaction that you need to stay sharp, healthy, and maybe even ward off dementia. Research has shown that social interaction offers older adults many benefits. Staying socially active and maintaining interpersonal relationships can help you maintain good physical and emotional health and cognitive function.
People who continue to maintain close friendships and find other ways to interact socially live longer than those who become isolated. Relationships and social interactions even help protect against illness by boosting your immune system.
The benefits of being social
Specific health benefits of social interaction in older adults include:
Potentially reduced risk for cardiovascular problems, some cancers, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis
Potentially reduced risk for Alzheimer's disease
Lower blood pressure
Reduced risk for mental health issues such as depression
Conversely, social isolation carries real risks. Some of these risks are:
Feeling lonely and depressed
Being less physically active
Having a greater risk of death
Having high blood pressure
Social interaction helps keep your brain from getting rusty, but it's most effective when coupled with an overall healthy lifestyle, including a nutritious diet and physical activity.
Keeping your connections strong
Start by staying in touch with friends and family, and try to visit with them regularly. Here are other ways you can maintain a high level of social interaction:
Volunteer in your community.
Visit a senior center and participate in offered activities with other seniors—this is a great way to make new friends.
Join a group focused on activities you enjoy, such as playing cards or a book club.
Try taking a class—learn a new language or a new style of cooking or experiment with a new hobby.
Join a gym or fitness center to stay physically fit and engage with others.
Find ways to stay young at heart, stimulated, busy—and out of the house. Schedule regular visits with grandkids or volunteer at a school or children's organization to enjoy time with little ones and absorb some of their youthful energy.
Although staying in touch in person is important, phone calls, snail mail, and e-mail can keep you connected, too—if you're not yet comfortable with computers, ask a young relative to help you.
Staying socially active and maintaining your relationships are an important part of healthy aging. Reach out to your loved ones—neighbors, friends, family members—and stay as vibrant, active, and social as you've always been.
- Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
- newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician