Foster Connection to Live Longer
Emerging research strengthens the idea that close social and family relationships play a large part in our health as we age. We have learned that adults with strong social connections have lower rates of depression and even enjoy better physical health. Now we are learning just how much quality social relationships can improve health outcomes as we age.
A recent study found that adults with more social ties tend to live longer, despite smoking, drinking, being obese, or not exercising. And this does not change with lower or higher socioeconomic status. Chronic illness, contagious diseases, cancer risk and cognitive decline are reduced when older adults have access to social support, family or community. On the other hand, being isolated or lonely leads to worse physical and mental health outcomes across demographics.
While we may have a smaller social circle as we age, healthier adults tend to keep a closer set of friends and family, especially spouses, than younger adults. So, it is not necessarily about having more friends, but having close ones. It really is quality over quantity.
Even if you or an aging loved one are feeling out of touch, especially over the past two years of pandemic isolation, there is good news. No matter your age, building new connections or rekindling past ones can improve physical and mental health. Our brains are adaptive (called neuroplasticity) throughout our lifespan, with neurons continuing to grow and change until the end of life in response to different stimuli. As long as you continue to make an effort to increase emotional connection, you can see benefits and improvements in health outcomes throughout your lifespan.
Ways to Improve Connection
So how can you build or maintain strong social ties? At CiminoCare, we encourage residents to join community activities and get to know their neighbors. While it can be difficult being separated from family, there are ways to expand one’s social circle and develop quality connections.
“We recognize that one of the greatest gifts we can give residents is the opportunity to connect with each other at mealtimes, art classes or exercise classes. It sounds cliche, but friendships really do blossom.”
— MaryAnn Cimino Shinn, Regional Director, Granddaughter of founder Wilma Cimino
We don’t all have a built-in community at our doorsteps, but you can make new connections and grow existing ones over time. Try these ideas:
- Attend church or a community center event
- Join a club or group: Book club, gardening, walking, art, etc.
- Call that friend or family member you’ve been meaning to
- Say Yes to more invitations; extend some to people you know
- Visit a local gathering: Farmers market, art fair, beach cleanup, etc.
- Be patient, available and keep it up; real connections take time
- Connect with younger people! It is mutually beneficial and allows you to impart wisdom and compassion to angsty young minds while they can energize and expand your thinking
- Make the effort to visit loved ones in senior care — we love our visitors at CiminoCare!
Humans are social creatures, so it makes sense that if you neglect your social connections, you may suffer detrimental effects on your well-being. Positive connection helps calm our stress-response systems, lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol that negatively affects our mental and physical health.
In an increasingly digital age, it seems like we are connected all the time, but actually getting out and being with people, talking to each other, being able to provide support, simply provides more health benefits. When seniors get asked their biggest regrets, one of the most common answers is that they did not spend enough quality time with loved ones. Rarely do you hear people wished they worked more, had a bigger house or more stuff.
“Our residents do teach us to see our life challenges in a larger perspective. When asked for advice, most residents encourage us to slow down and cherish time with friends and family. We are all working on that.”
— Mark Cimino, CEO of CiminoCare, Son of founder Wilma Cimino
As the population ages — there are expected to be 10x more centenarians by 2050 — our society will continue to grapple with how to adequately and compassionately care for everyone. Reducing our risk of cognitive decline and chronic illness by fostering quality connections will help ease the burden and provide improved quality of life for all.
So get out there and say Hello, extend a helping hand, or simply pick up the phone and make staying in touch a priority. You will help to improve quality of life in the long term for yourself and others.