Why Socializing Helps Keep the Mind Sharp in Old Age

Advances in medical science are allowing people to live much longer than our ancestors. With this increased longevity people experience a decline in their physical function and perhaps even more devastatingly, loss of cognitive functions. Memory loss is becoming more common among the elderly. Naturally this is upsetting to both them and their loved ones. The good news is that studies are showing evidence that an active social life may help to slow the rate of memory deterioration. It may also help to prevent dementia.

Harvard Research on Memory Loss and Aging

A study that appeared in the July 2008 issue of American Journal of Public Health was completed by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). In the study researchers set out to test if memory loss was connected to social interaction. They gathered a sample of adults in the United States aged 50 and older and read them a list of common words. After a five minute delay they then asked them to recite back as many of those words as possible. They determined each subject’s social activity level by a number of factors:

  • Marital status
  • Contact with family members (parents, children and other relatives)
  • Contact with friends and neighbors
  • Volunteer activities

The study concluded that seniors with the lowest rate of cognitive decline had the highest amount of social interaction. Overall the study indicated that the rate of memory decline for the most social individuals was less than half the rate of those with the least amount of social opportunities. These findings were the same regardless of age, gender, race or health.

The Problem

Adjusting to retirement can be difficult after spending a lifetime on schooling and work. Some people suffer with boredom, depression and feelings of isolation. A person may turn inward if dealing with a chronic illness or other health problems. They may also experience anxiety about finances while learning to live on a fixed income.

There are many factors that impact the ability of the elderly to enjoy active and meaningful social lives.

  • They have few family members or friends.
  • Friends and family may be separated by long distances.
  • Elderly people of 80 years and older often find many friends and relatives have already passed away leaving them alone.
  • They may only have distant relatives that they may not know very well.
  • Health issues may impede their ability to leave the home.
  • Often elderly people are not able to drive and they are left with inadequate transportation.

Socialization is the Key

Approximately 10% of people 65 years and older are estimated to be suffering with dementia. Memory loss is a primary risk factor for the disease. Keeping the mind engaged helps to keep it active and healthy. Social interaction gives the brain a work out of sorts. Just like any exercise, the more work the brain does the fitter it becomes. It grows resilient and more resistant to decline.

Many retirees can find outlets for social interaction through volunteer opportunities, senior centers, clubs, church activities and even just getting more involved in their community. Classes are another way to reach out to make new friends and help to keep the mind active.

Relatives of older family members tend to be supportive in terms of cooking, cleaning or running errands. As helpful and well-intended as this is it doesn’t do much to help an elderly person stay mentally active. Regular visits, discussing other relatives and friends, playing games and going on outings are the best ways to maintain healthy social connections.

Senior care facilities offer excellent opportunities for social interaction for elderly people who don’t have in-home assistance. Most offer community dining rooms and activities such as game nights, crafts, dances, religious services and some even hold meetings regarding issues of the day.

Social Interaction is a Basic Human Need

The goal is to actively live life. Participate in activities and be a productive member of the community. Humans are social animals and our minds crave that interaction with other members of our species. When the social interaction is taken away or decreased the brain isn’t being used nearly as much. It is more than keeping the mind active with solitary games, puzzles or books. Social integration plays a very active role in cognitive health. Continuing to live as dynamic and connected a life as long as possible can help to keep the brain interested and engaged making the golden years more fulfilling and yes, memorable.

Resources:

Rosie writes regular articles like this one which is for Homes With Care, Homes With Care provide a unique and dedicated service that helps inform interested parties on the availability of assisted living facilities, retirement homes for sale and rent offering integrated close care, close care, extra care and independent living.

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