Live Longer By Socializing
Of course, you want to live at home the rest of your life. Matter of fact, you are in the majority because most surveys conclude that that 90% of seniors want to stay at home as long as possible. Got it.
Now, let’s assume that you or a loved one is getting the proper care and/or supervision at home (if needed), and the home is also a safe environment. For example, the home is set up with any necessary ramps, shower-chairs, grab bars and the like to decrease the chances of falls. Perfect….well, almost!
Much too often we see elderly living at home and somewhat isolated, watching a lot of television and just not keeping the mind and body active. We also see some elderly being more active, whether it is physically or socially active. Just in our day-to-day work, those that are more active seem to be happier, but what about longevity?
According to a study completed this year by the National Academy of Sciences, elderly people who are socially isolated and lonely may be at greater risk of early death, though lack of socialization may be an even bigger risk factor than loneliness. Here is an overview of these recent findings:
• The scientific evidence is that being socially isolated is probably bad for your health, and may lead to the development of serious illness and a reduced life span.
• Social isolation and loneliness are two sides of the same coin. Social isolation indicates a lack of contact with friends, relatives and organizations, while loneliness is a subjective experience of lack of companionship and social contact.
• The association between social isolation and mortality remained strong after demographic factors and baseline health and mobility had been taken into account.
• Social isolation was a more consistent predictor of not surviving than was loneliness, and was related to greater risk of dying even after age and background health were taken into account.
• Knowing how lonely participants felt did not add to the ability to predict future mortality. This is not to say that loneliness is unimportant, or that we should not strive to reduce loneliness in older men and women
• Isolation is a significant factor in both reduced quality of life and mortality.
• Social isolation increased the risk of dying regardless of one’s health and other factors, while loneliness increased the risk of dying only among those with underlying mental or physical problems.
As a community, we cannot take this information lightly. All of us need to do our part by assisting the elderly to be more involved, make social connections and help reduce their isolation. It’s important that we continue to educate the elderly about the risk associated with being isolated and encourage them to spend as much time with other people as possible, including family, friends and community.
Further information on the report can be found in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences at www.pnas.org.