Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide to North Jersey

Social Connectedness
The Key to Longevity and Well-Being

Healthy aging is linked to meaningful activity and a sense of belonging. The less involved someone is, the more at risk he or she is for being socially isolated or feeling disconnected from the community. Social isolation can negatively impact the quality of a person’s life. Studies have shown that older persons who have close connections and relationships not only live longer but also cope better with health conditions such as heart problems, and experience less depression and anxiety. In a recent study by the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, researchers found that lonely people have blood pressure readings that are as much as 30 points higher than non-lonely people.

As we age, there are a number of life transitions that can impact upon social and community networks. This isolation can happen either gradually or suddenly depending on life circumstances. Changes in health and mobility, changes in work status and income, and changes in living arrangements are just a few examples. Loss of family and friends, particularly a spouse, can also significantly impact on feelings of isolation. In addition, seniors can unexpectedly become the primary care givers for their loved ones and feel shut out from the rest of the world. Transportation is also linked to social connectedness. When driving is no longer an option, isolation becomes a significant factor, especially in communities where there is a lack of access to transportation.

Does this mean that everyone will be isolated as they age? Of course not! It is just that the more active and engaged that you are, the easier various life transitions (such as retirement) can be. You can actually take steps to become less isolated. Studies have shown that people do adjust and find new ways to make friends. The key is to expand your criteria for defining friendships and begin to sustain friendships in different ways. For example, it might not be possible to sustain face-to-face contact with a friend, but communications through letters, email and phone calls can work to sustain closeness.

Here are some suggestions to help reduce loneliness and feeling of isolation:

Get Involved in Your Community

There are a number of civic and volunteer opportunities available. When you are working with people with similar interests and commitments, it is likely that you will make connections

Learn Something New

Take a course in something that interests you. Chances are you will meet like-minded people. Various universities, hospitals and community agencies offer a variety of lectures and workshops. If you are homebound, consider taking a “class without walls” where you join a group of other homebound seniors for lecture and discussion through teleconferencing.

Exercise

Not only is exercise vital in fall prevention, it is an amazing way to meet other people. Many organizations offer exercise classes for older adults.

Get a Pet

Pets can offer unconditional love and companionship. It can also provide opportunities to meet others. It’s amazing how many people talk to you when you are out and about with a dog!

Consider Various Housing Options

Even if you are comfortable in your home, you may be geographically isolated from others. It might make sense to consider a different kind of arrangement where there are opportunities to meet and socialize with others.

Keep a Positive Attitude

Sure it can be intimidating to meet new people, but what do you have to lose? Staying positive serves as a motivator to explore new social avenues.

People who remain active and connected in their community are generally happier and healthier. Consider joining a new group, exercise class, lecture, or volunteer program today. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

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