Isolation is common in elderly people, who may lose mobility as they age or increasingly seek a mellow life, enjoying their home and the peace it offers after the rigors of youth and middle age.
Although making social connections takes extra effort, new research shows how much friendships matter for preventing premature death—even more than maintaining a healthy weight. Extreme feelings of loneliness make senior citizens 14% more likely to die prematurely, according to researchers at the University of Chicago.
Loneliness is twice more likely to lead to premature death than obesity, and has nearly the same impact as low income status.
The key here is loneliness, researchers said. Being alone matters less than feeling isolated, which leads to profound health consquences for the elderly. Earlier research by the same Chicago psychologist, John Cacioppo, found loneliness causes inflammation, hardens the arteries, and leads to declines in learning and memory.
Even for elderly people who live alone, staying involved in the community or participating in a few activities increases feelings of connectedness and can improve health. It’s a good idea to find an activity you can commit to for a long period of time since seeing the same people multiple times will increase your chances for making real connections—the antidote to loneliness.
Find a cause you’re passionate about and donate time. Whether helping out at the local animal shelter, helping kids learn to read, or sewing quilts for kids with cancer, volunteering helps you connect with other people and a cause larger than yourself.
Join a club
Do you like to garden? Maybe you want to learn a new language. Joining a club is a great way to deepen your knowledge about a topic that interests you and develop friendships all at once. Learning new things also supports brain function and helps keep you sharp.
Live in an active adult community
Seniors still living in the house where they spent their middle years might consider moving to an active adult community. These neighborhoods are filled with other senior citizens who also want to make connections and have fun in their later years. Communities often organize fun activities, clubs, and social outings, making it easy to connect and form new friendships, no matter how old you are.
If you’re not in terrific shape, more sedentary options like book clubs will help you connect. However much you join in, you’ll still reap the benefits of living in a community of like-minded people.
How do you stay connected as you age?
Image by Toshimasa Ishibashi via Flickr