Friendships become more important as we age, yet social connections for seniors can be difficult to create and maintain.
That’s why senior living communities are stepping up to provide more opportunities for older adults to engage in regular social engagement. Take a look at how you or a loved one can harness the health benefits of being social, and what communities are doing to help residents find more meaningful connections:
Experience Better Overall Mental Health with Social Interaction
Many older adults find it difficult to make new friends after retirement, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and social isolation. It’s not because seniors lack the social skills to make and maintain new friendships, rather they don’t have access to regular opportunities or social engagement with their peers.
Studies show social isolation is associated with decreased cognitive function and increased symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Social activities and events for seniors that promote autonomy, support mastering a familiar or new subject, and enhance friendships between others are especially likely to improve the well-being of those who participate.
Along with improving symptoms of anxiety and depression and increasing cognitive function, healthy social connection for seniors also has these benefits:
- More self-confidence
- Better sleep
- Enhanced mood
- Decreased PTSD symptoms
- Greater empathy for others
- Increased sense of purpose
- Improved self-worth
Senior living communities create cohesive social environments, because they’re extraordinarily positioned to help reduce loneliness and social isolation by encouraging meaningful connections between residents with thoughtful programs, activities and welcoming social spaces. You can use our find a community tool to look for senior living communities in your area.
Social Connections Prevent Cognitive Decline
Studies show strong social connections significantly reduce the rate of cognitive decline and dementia – by up to 70%.
While experts are certain of the true link between regular social interaction and the lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia, research has shown it could be attributed to these reasons:
Decreased symptoms of depression and better sleep. Experts believe the decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety and better sleep that comes from spending time with others plays a role in decreasing dementia risk. That’s because poor sleep and depression are also associated with cognitive decline.
Better brain capacity. A study published by the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society shows older adults with large social networks have superior social cognitive abilities and use their brain capacity to manage complex social dynamics. MRIs have even shown those with larger social networks have bigger brain volumes, which has been shown to decrease the risk of dementia.
Lower levels of inflammatory proteins. Adults with healthy social lives, especially women, have lower levels of the inflammatory proteins interleukin-6 and C-reactive , which cause chronic inflammation throughout the body, including the brain. Inflammation of the brain increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and usually occurs decades before the onset of symptoms.
Regular Social Engagement Leads to a More Active Lifestyle
A study published by The Journals of Gerontology shows that older adults who interact beyond their typical social circles and have more variation in their social interactions are more likely to be physically active. That’s because instead of spending time alone lounging on the couch, they need to leave their residence to engage with their friends and family. This results in a more active lifestyle.
Social connection for seniors can also have these physical effects on the body:
- Increased cardiovascular health
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced hypertension
- Improved cardiovascular health.Decreased risk for certain cancers, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis
Studies also show seniors with social connections may also lead longer lives. The results show both men and women can have longer lives as a result of regular social interaction, but the effects significantly reduced mortality rates in men.
How Senior Living Communities Are Creating Opportunities for Social Connection
The American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) revealed an incredible range of creative approaches to support social interactions in senior living communities in a 2021 survey. It included 290 communities, across 35 states, and included levels of care like independent living, assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement communities.
These approaches include intergenerational social engagements, fun and creative physical activities, buddy systems, and resident-designed and led programs.
Here are just a few examples of the programs ASHA discovered:
- Casino night
- Drumming class
- Fitness centers
- Neighborhood events
- Group karaoke
- Monthly men’s breakfasts and women’s social teas
- Puppy yoga
- Resident pen pal programs
- Restaurant-style dining venues
- Volunteer opportunities
- Wellness programs
Even better, ASHA found that 80% of senior living communities surveyed reported they feature an indoor common area, outside patio seating, indoor entertainment space, walking paths and/or outside gardens, and arts and crafts studio. Results also showed residents particularly favored indoor common areas and entertainment spaces.
This combination of diverse activities and programs tailored to residents’ interests ensures that everyone, regardless of preference, personality or disability, can enjoy regular social engagement.
Learn More About the Social Connection for Seniors Study
Discover more about the role senior living communities play in social connection for seniors by downloading our free Special Issue brief:“Senior Living Communities Uniquely Positioned to Reduce Social Isolation and Promote Social Connection in Older Adults.
Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.