The Importance of Staying Social (Even While Socially Distancing)

While the COVID-19 pandemic affected social lives around the globe, it will likely have long standing effects for our senior population. Due to the increased risks for seniors, the CDC recommends that older adults (aged 65 years and older) stay home if possible and avoid close contact from others. While restrictions are beginning to be lifted in some areas of the country, seniors are recommended to proceed with more caution than the general population. Although this may be the safest way for the senior population to proceed during the pandemic, this lack of social interaction leaves seniors at risk for isolation and consequently physical, mental, and functional decline.

A healthy social life is vital for seniors, as seniors who describe themselves as lonely have a greater risk of functional decline and decreased longevity compared to those who describe themselves as socially active. However, aside from the circumstances of COVID-19, there is a high risk of becoming isolated in older age. The death of a spouse or friends, loss of mobility or an inability to live independently often impact a senior’s social life negatively. Therefore, it’s imperative that seniors and their families take an active role in promoting senior socialization, as consistent social interactions help keep people mentally, physically and emotionally fit.

Here’s just a small sampling as to why senior socialization should be a priority in your family:

• Senior socialization has been found to prolong the onset of many physical, cognitive and emotional difficulties compared to less social counter parts
• Older adults who are socially active handle stress and anxiety better. This resilient stress response leads to benefits in an individual’s cardiovascular health and immune system
• Socialization in seniors has been found to help increase life longevity
• Older adults with diverse social networks are more likely to exercise regularly (even if that just means walking more), which leads to a host of physical benefits as well
• Consistent socialization reduces the likelihood that seniors will experience depression often caused by isolation and loneliness
• Socialization helps seniors maintain their self-esteem, sense of worth, and confidence
• Consistent social interactions help keep seniors stimulated, mentally sharp, and intellectually engaged. Social interactions are unique in that they require a complex and novel set of cognitive demands each and every time. Therefore, this challenging cognitive engagement can help prevent general cognitive decline, including memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. In fact, one study found that cognitive abilities declined 70 percent more slowly in individuals who had frequent social connections compared to those who had little social contact with others.

Therefore, even though socialization may look different right now, it’s imperative we prioritize socialization for our beloved seniors. In the current context of COVID-19, that may mean offering Zoom lessons so seniors can stay connected with their family and friends, looking into virtual senior centers, signing up for virtual book clubs (there are a lot through Facebook), learning something new through online classes at local community colleges, or attending parking lot church ceremonies. Whatever it looks like right now, let’s keep our seniors happy, healthy, and socializing!