November / December 2015
By Abe Zimmerman
Life is full of chapters. Some of these are more inclusive than others. There’s a time in our lives when we’re required to socialize, regardless of our interest. The kids are in school, we’re participating in neighborhood potlucks, spending time with family and having lunch with friends. We’re in groups like the PTA, church, or civic groups, coaching baseball or dance. As we age, however, things can change without us realizing it. The kids are grown, the neighbors have moved, and we just don’t seem to have lunch with our friends quite as often.
Initially, having fewer social obligations seems like a treat. But over time, it can hinder our health and wellness. Lack of social interaction often leads to isolation. According to Ken Dychtwald of AgeWave, the majority of seniors spend up to 40 hours per week watching television, many times due to lack of purpose and social obligations. A 2012 study from the University of California-San Francisco concluded that those who spend less time with others are more likely to develop health problems as they age. In other words, there’s a science to socialization. In fact, that study found people identifying as lonely had a 59 percent greater risk of declining health than their more social counterparts. On the flip side, people with social ties — regardless of their source — live longer than people who are isolated. And people who have a close network of ties with other people seem to maintain better health. Dr. Kenneth Pelletier of the Stanford University Center for Research in Disease Prevention says, “A sense of belonging and connection to other people appears to be a basic human need — as basic as food and shelter. In fact, social support may be one of the critical elements distinguishing those who remain healthy from those who become ill. The amount of social support you enjoy also appears to have an impact on biological processes, such as neuroendocrine responses, immune responses, and changes in blood flow.”1 Having a social network as you age DOES matter. It’s a very real predictor of health and wellness.
The good news is that sense of community doesn’t have to end just because you’ve graduated from the demands of socialization. As an older adult, there’s now opportunity to enjoy a sense of community without the same level of responsibility you may have felt in your younger years. Now is the time to truly enjoy the fruits of your labor! Senior living communities are a place to discover this sense of belonging.
The great thing about a senior living community is that there are endless opportunities for socialization. You can get to know others in the fitness center or the dining room. There are clubs and groups for just about every personal interest, so it’s easy to find someone who enjoys the same things you do.
The best testimony for advantages of socialization within senior living communities most often comes from those who live there. They consistently share stories of their Tai Chi classes, bridge games, museum outings, or the fabulous food and camaraderie at the lunch table. It’s also important to remember that maintaining independence is just as important as socialization. As with any chapter of our lives, we need to balance the interaction and purpose of activity with the freedom of choice and time for ourselves. The sense of community offered with independent living services gives the best of both worlds, providing one-stop service for truly living the “golden years.”
But being social isn’t mandatory. Certainly a senior living community can be a wonderful place for those who enjoy the virtues of solitude. In most cases, however, the balance is there. It’s about having the freedom to choose, but having encouraging neighbors helps with expanding horizons. The science doesn’t lie. Rediscovering your potential to make friends and spend time with them may hold the key to happiness for many wonderful years to come.