The Importance of Socialization for Seniors

BY: 

INSPĪR SENIOR LIVING TEAM

As one of our Nine Core Elements at Inspīr, Belonging is an integral part of what we want residents to feel not only within our residence but in life in general. That’s because we know how important it is for our overall health and well-being. In fact, it has been proven time and time again that people have higher quality lives and live longer when they feel a part of supportive, caring relationships. At Inspīr Carnegie Hill, we make a point to keep our residents connected through community-based partnerships, cultural programming and outings, on-site faith-based services, and technology solutions.

As we age, we often find it more difficult to make new friends. At a young age, friends come easy. First, friendships develop through school and college, and then through the parents of our children and the communities we are involved with, and through work and special interests. But as we age, our children grow up and develop their own circle of friends and build their own lives, and the community in which we were once so active begins to narrow. Yet, the importance of socialization and interaction with others increases as we age. 

According to a study published in the US National Library of Medicine, “Having close social ties is not always considered to be an important health behavior, however, studies have revealed that the effects of close social relationships on health carry the same magnitude comparable to or greater than that of such well-established risk factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity, and physical inactivity.”

Both loneliness and social isolation are serious public health concerns that affect many older adults. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reported that more than one-third of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. Long-term isolation and loneliness can cause many negative health issues, including the increased risk of mortality, depression, cognitive decline, dementia, and high blood pressure. These risk factors dramatically decrease when we prioritize and nurture healthy relationships.

Brian Geyser, Chief Clinical Officer at Inspīr, recently spoke on this topic at a virtual event co-produced by 92Y and Hundred Stories titled City of Tomorrow: Building a Better Future. The discussion “Addressing Social Isolation in a Time of Social Distancing” (his segment begins at 3 hrs. 41 min.) was moderated by Rachel Jones, a contributing writer for National Geographic, and included Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, Science Director at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and Maja Matarić, Professor of Computer Science, Neuroscience, and Pediatrics at UCLA.

Through the discussion, each of the participants shared their knowledge and offered opinions on how social services, architecture, infrastructure, and technology can offer solutions that foster human connection and combat social isolation.    

Simon-Thomas spoke about social connection and its daily importance for people through subtle interactions and affirmations. She notes that first, social connection creates trust in humanity. By interacting with people through our daily interactions and not having a threatening experience, it establishes trust. Second, it creates a sense of belonging, which helps reaffirm the role that each of us plays in our communities and families. For example, who turns to us when we need support? And third, we also need to know that we have people we can count on as well when we need support.

According to Simon-Thomas, the pandemic has lessened or stopped our incidental contact with people in places where we would usually have interactions, such as when we would go to the store, or say hello to our neighbors or our co-workers, and as a result, this creates enhanced isolation. Simon-Thomas suggests that people become more deliberate in their day-to-day living. Even though you may have to wear a mask, you can still say hello, and make eye contact. This gives people a sense of community, belonging, and interpersonal trust that we all crave, whether we realize it or not.

Geyser, who is also the VP Clinical Innovation & Population Health for Maplewood Senior Living, our sister company, spoke about how we as a company embraced the use of technology during the pandemic to help combat the negative impact of social isolation and keep residents connected with family and friends. He specifically cited the temi robots that we introduced at our fifteen Maplewood Senior Living communities throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Ohio. These robots enabled residents to speak to their family members through Facetime without having to hold a tablet or iPad. The robots also entertained residents, playing games and music for them. We have purchased a temi robot for every floor of Inspīr Carnegie Hill to enable the same type of interaction among residents and their families.

Robotics is something that Matarić is also personally passionate about. She is a pioneer in the field of socially assistive robotics and has spent the past decade and a half focusing on developing robots that provide social and emotional support rather than physical assistance. “We want the robot to in a sense become a loved one who can always be there when no one else can be,” said Matarić. She continued to explain, “They are designed to augment and enhance what human caregivers can do but not to replace them … they create a bridge in caregiving. The job of caregiving is very demanding, and robots can alleviate some of the human care so that both the caregiver and the individual receiving care has support.”

The discussion was thought provoking and gave listeners hope that innovative solutions are taking shape as we speak to combat social isolation for older adults. It also served as a reminder to the many benefits a healthy social life offers. Beyond the immediate gratification socializing with friends offers, it has lasting positive effects on our health and well-being, including:   

Longevity  According to an article published by Harvard’s School of Public Health, people with strong social connections and relationships may live longer than those without. Studies show that those who are isolated face a 50% greater risk of premature death than those with strong connections.

Improved physical and mental health – Engaging with others can help strengthen the immune system, allowing the body to fight off physical illnesses while also decreasing feelings of depression and loneliness.

Lowered risk of dementia  Studies have shown that increased social interaction helps prevent feelings of isolation, stress, and loneliness, all of which contribute to cognitive decline.

Improved brain function – When we socialize with others, our brains become stimulated, which helps improve our cognitive abilities and keep our brains sharp and agile.

Better quality of life – When we have meaningful relationships and friends we love to spend time with, our lives improve. Friendships can help us find renewed meaning and purpose in life.

Every day at Inspīr is a new opportunity to participate in an abundance of enriching activities. The Carnegie Hill Experience Team has curated a diverse and eclectic mix of programming partners, purposefully chosen to enrich the lives of our residents and ensure that they are able to live with intention. Our person-centered approach to care helps us to discover each resident’s interests, and design personalized living experiences for each and every resident. Whether it’s a preference for travel, art, photography, dance, cooking, and more, our residents receive thoughtfully curated programs to integrate their passions into everyday life. 

At Inspīr Carnegie Hill, it’s your life, catered to you.