Social connection for seniors is critical, playing an essential role in their mental, emotional and physical health. Seniors with a strong social network have a better quality of life and experience superior overall health and wellness as well as being at lower risk of nursing home abuse.
Benefits of Social Connection for Seniors
Seniors with social connection have many benefits over seniors without, and experience many mental, emotional and physical health benefits.
Some benefits of healthy social connection for seniors include:
- Disease prevention
- Fewer physical health problems
- Longevity/length of life
- Improved cognitive function
- Better self-esteem
- Sense of belonging
- Maintained purpose of life
Disease Prevention / Better Health
For over half a century, researchers have focused on the importance of community and a sense of belonging to human health. In the late 1960s and 70s, researchers followed Alameda County residents, measuring the impact of community on overall health. “Community” was measured by religious and volunteer affiliations and the number of friends and acquaintances.
The study at Alameda County concluded that people with a strong sense of belonging and community experienced notably lower rates of disease and death.
Dr. Patricia Thomas has conducted several studies looking into the health benefits of social connection. In one study that followed seniors for almost two decades—with regular check-ins in 1986, 1989, 1994, and 2002—Dr. Thomas concluded that increased social engagement resulted in lower cognitive and physical limitations over time.
Another study by Dr. Thomas concluded that high levels of social engagement decreased mortality rates. Seniors with a stronger social life are more likely to live longer, which suggests social engagement is an important health factor for seniors.
Dr. Thomas is just one of many researchers looking into this topic who have come to similar conclusions between the late 1970s and today. While these studies show the importance of social connection for disease prevention and better health, they are just a few of many that reach this conclusion. Studies are continuously proving the health benefits of a robust social life. Seniors who are socially connected to their peers reap extraordinary health benefits.
Sense of Belonging
Seniors who are socially connected have a stronger sense of belonging, which translates into better physical, mental and emotional health. People who are confident with their place in the world are less likely to question their faith and beliefs, providing stronger spiritual health.
Social connections help seniors maintain their sense of belonging, which has positive impacts on health, wellness and quality of life.
A study by Statistics Canada also noticed a correlation between seniors’ sense of belonging and their perceived health. Seniors who felt a strong or somewhat strong sense of community reported their health as higher than those who had a lower sense of community—regardless of their actual state of health.
Decrease Risk of Abuse
Elder abuse is a far too common issue that affects seniors across the nation. Seniors who are isolated and have limited social networks are at the highest risk of being abused and need to be protected.
Elder abuse can take make forms, including:
Connecting seniors with their peers and other loved ones makes them less susceptible to abuse of every form. Social connection can help prevent abuse from happening in the first place and makes seniors more likely to report any abuse that does occur.
Social Connection Challenges for Seniors
Scientific evidence proves the need for social connections as people age, but it can be challenging for seniors to stay connected socially. It’s incredibly common for seniors to feel deeper isolation as they age, for many reasons:
- Fewer friends, as seniors pass away or move
- Physical limitations make it harder to visit others
- Relocation to a nursing home and away from familiar faces
- Busy family members have less time to visit
Preventing social isolation is a significant health factor for seniors, and it needs to be approached at every level, especially in nursing homes. Many people consider physical and health needs when considering nursing homes, but it’s just as critical to look at social programs, visitation abilities and opportunities for friendship.
Likewise, seniors who aren’t in nursing homes have to overcome the same challenges. Physical and emotional difficulties may make it difficult for seniors to leave their house or have guests visit, which can hurt their overall health. Social connection for seniors is essential in allowing older adults to live happy, healthy lives. It’s our responsibility to provide that for our aging loved ones.