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Staying social helps keep your mind and body healthy
A game of cards with your girlfriends. A round of golf with your buddies. A leisurely breakfast with an old friend. It’s easy to see the importance and value that strong relationships and social interaction bring to our lives. But more than just the enjoyment we gain from spending time with people we love and respect, regular social engagement is key for older adults because it helps to improve mood and maintain memory and language skills. What’s more, it helps maintain cognitive function by delaying the progression of memory loss and dementia – and it can also improve depression.
Isolation as You AgeAs a young or middle-aged adult, you’ll likely never run short of people to talk to or places to go. Work responsibilities and kids’ activities keep us hopping. But older adults can easily become isolated when their spouse, children, siblings or close friends pass away. Diseases like COPD, stroke and arthritis can make traveling more difficult. Hearing loss often limits a person’s ability to communicate with others effectively. Worst of all, anxieties relating to memory loss cause many seniors to withdraw from others.
Are you or a loved one socializing enough?
Even though some of these situations brought on by aging are unavoidable, there are signs you can be on the lookout for that might indicate you or a family member is struggling with isolation. Self-neglect that shows up in poor hygiene, an untidy home or weight loss, or an apathy or lack of interest toward hobbies and activities that were previously enjoyed (such as knitting, attending church or family events) should not be ignored and are signs of isolation and potential cognitive decline.
If you’re a child of an aging parent who you suspect is suffering from the effects of isolation, there are some things you can do. First, encourage them to attend activities with you that they previously enjoyed; work with them to think of socialization opportunities they may like (such as a Bible study, senior center group, exercise class, or art lessons); re-examine if their current living environment is adequate to meet all of their needs including transportation to and from activities. Access to activities and proximity to friends or other older adults is vital.
If you’re struggling yourself, reach out to loved ones, share what you’re feeling, and schedule an appointment with your physician to come up with a plan on how to improve your socialization. It’s important to remember that the goal of socializing is to increase opportunities to meet and interact with individuals who are of similar age, educational or social background, helping you easily engage in a conversation about shared experiences.
Alycia Cleinman, MD