“Communication is merely an exchange of information, but connection is an exchange of humanity.” This quote from author Sean Stephenson alludes to the importance of maintaining social connections. What are the effects of social isolation on mental health, and how can seniors avoid them?
Effects of Social Isolation on Mental Health
People are social animals, and we rely on the other people around us to provide everything from social cues to reassurance when times get rough. And yet, social isolation is much more common than many people realize. In fact, up to one-third of all Americans report feelings of loneliness and isolation as an issue they have to deal with in their daily lives. Making an effort to connect with the people around you will not only help you, but also it can help a lot of other people too.
Social Connections Keep Your Mind Healthy and Engaged
If you’re already the kind of person who prefers their own company, you might be wondering why this is such a big deal. It’s important to remember that social connection is an established psychological need for human beings. When people lack social connections, their mental health can suffer as a result:
- Social contact helps us build cognitive reserves, which can make your brain better at using language and memory. This is why doctors recommend increased social activity for seniors who are concerned about dementia.
- In general, a lack of social activity is connected to poor mental health outcomes regardless of other environmental factors. Socially isolated seniors are consistently more likely to suffer from serious mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
- A lack of social contact can also interfere with your physical health in ways that affect your mental health. People who lack social contact are more likely to experience problems like sleeplessness and issues with cognitive functions, both of which can make mental health issues even more difficult to resolve.
This may sound like a lot of bad news. Here’s some better news: No matter how socially isolated you may feel, research shows that the damage done by social isolation can be repaired, and even completely reversed! How? It’s time to get social.
How Can I Get Social as a Senior?
Maintaining social connections as a senior can feel tricky, but it’s also an important thing to do for your mental and emotional health. If it’s been a little while since you’ve put yourself out there, here are some ways you can meet new friends as a senior:
- Strengthen your existing social networks. Reach out to family, friends, and neighbors on a regular basis, and let them know you appreciate hearing from them. If you aren’t sure what to say, you can always send someone a link to a funny video or an article you think they would like. Even if it feels silly, people like to know you’re thinking of them.
- Try something new. If you want to make new friends, you’re going to have to put yourself where the people are. Volunteer, take a class, or join a club related to a special interest like birdwatching.
- Join a new community. Is taking care of the day-to-day details of life so overwhelming that you can’t find time to socialize? Consider moving to an active assisted living community. With daily calendars of fun activities and a ton of like-minded seniors to meet, you’ll make friends before you know it.
The effects of social isolation on mental health are real, but so are the things you can do about them. Why not reach out and make a new friend today? There’s always someone out there who’s looking forward to hearing from you.