Socialization – relating with one another and building a network of relationships – is something most people associate with infancy and childhood. It’s an essential part of infants’ personality formation and in learning how to “work and play well with others” not only in childhood, but throughout adult life.
But as we age, our network of relationships narrows, turning inward and focusing on family members. When we lose a spouse or partner or become hampered with physical or cognitive challenges, that network can fray or even shatter. It’s easy to shrug this off as just another side effect of old age and to assume that this is just how life unfolds.
Easy, perhaps, but wrong.
That’s because socialization has very real effects on physical health. Socialization in seniors reduces risk of cardiovascular problems, some cancers, and even osteoporosis. High socialization can even lower blood pressure, as well as reducing risk of Alzheimer’s disease and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
A Rush University Medical Center study published in 2011 proves this. Over five years, the study assessed 1,138 individuals averaging 80 years old – recording information about their social activities and testing them for various types of cognitive functions including memory, perceptual speed and spatial ability. Over an average five-year period, the people with the most social activity experienced only one-quarter (1/4) as much cognitive decline as those with the least! This finding was true regardless of age, physical activity, general health, and other factors that can affect cognitive functioning.
This means that staying in touch with family and friends, joining a group – cards, book club, gardening, whatever – taking a class or learning a new skill can keep minds working better for longer. So can joining a gym or just reaching out – whether it be through phone calls, email or snail mail, texting, tweeting, or other social media.
Staying active and engaged is not only a simple form of prevention; it’s also one that can be fun.