Why Being Socially Active Is so Important for Mom or Dad

Posted: 3/12/2020 8:00 AM by Interim HealthCare

We spend a fair amount of time here on the Interim HealthCare blog talking about senior loneliness. That's because the health risks for lonely seniors are profound -- starting with a 25% higher mortality rate. 

But on the other side of the coin, social activity can provide a tremendous boost to the health and happiness of our loved ones (and for all of us!). Certainly, we are social creatures. We seek out others who share common traits, plus others who have differing likes or points of view. It's part of what makes us human!

Aside from anecdotal observations associated with friendship and social activity, research shows it most definitely boosts senior health. Here are just a few ways how:

Better brain health

Spending time with friends and family in social activities keeps us sharp. Whether it's for a book club talk, playing board games or even going for a walk, putting our brains to work helps stave off (or slow progression of) conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Improved emotional health

As mentioned above, loneliness (and ensuing depression) can wreak havoc on senior health, ultimately leading to an increased risk of death.  Spending time with friends, peers and/or loved ones keeps seniors in a good mood and helps them feel a sense of community. This can prevent depression and other emotional challenges. 

Stronger physical health

Of course, the physical health benefits of social activity should not be overlooked. Movement of any kind is almost universally positive for seniors (talk to your loved one's doctor to be sure there are no movement restrictions necessary). More movement can improve heart, brain, joint, lung and health in other areas of the body. When social activity includes walks, senior fitness classes, swimming and other exercise-focused choices, the impact is magnified. 

Better sleep

Sleep is another topic we discuss pretty frequently here on the Interim HealthCare blog. That's because getting a good night's rest can be more difficult as we age, yet sleep impacts so many areas of our physical and mental health. Seniors (and individuals of any age) who have stronger social connections have been found to get better, more restorative sleep. 

Stronger immune protection

Our immune systems serve as our armor, protecting us from and fighting against viruses, bacteria and other invaders. As we age, our immune system may not work as efficiently as it did in our youth, and when we do contract viruses and other illnesses when we're older, we're at a higher risk of complications. In other words, a strong immune system is extremely important for older adults! Research suggests that building and nurturing strong social relationships can provide a critical boost to our immune systems. 

How to increase social activity for your senior loved ones

Depending on mobility and desire to get out, your senior loved one may or may not be open to a range of social activities. Here is some inspiration to help get your loved one out and about to build stronger social connections:

Seek volunteer opportunties

Many seniors love getting out and spending time with animals or babies. Try your local animal shelters to see if they need volunteers. From taking animals for walks (if your loved one is physically able) to petting, playing, feeding and providing other crucial care, there are often many opportunities for seniors to volunteer with animals. 

If your local hospitals have a NICU -- neonatal intensive care unit -- they may have a need for volunteers to provide "skin time," which has shown to help premature babies battle health troubles, or to feed and simply snuggle. These opportunites can be incredibly rewarding for seniors while also helping babies grow up big and strong. 

Reach out to senior centers

Many areas have senior centers with designated activities, even day trips, that can provide some excellent opportunities for your loved one to get out and spend time with friends. Some of these centers have a fee, while others are sponsored by local governments or nonprofits. 

Conversely, you can also search for senior social groups in your area on Facebook or Meetup.com. Just be careful to vet any potential meetups or groups in advance to be sure they are legitimate and offer true opportunities for your loved one to socialize. 

Consider a home health aide

Some seniors simply prefer to stay home, or perhaps health troubles make it difficult to get out on a regular basis. In many instances, a home health aide can not only provide social company, he or she can help with critical functions around the house while providing company and conversation. At Interim HealthCare, our home health aides are passionate caregivers who proudly care and provide company for seniors and others across the country. To learn more, contact the Interim HealthCare location nearest you.