Social interaction a key component of healthy senior living

There’s no denying that social interaction is a cornerstone of healthy living. Isolation and loneliness have been tied to a variety of issues, including an increased risk of depression and type 2 diabetes. This is especially true for seniors, many of whom are less likely to stay socially active as they get older. While it may be difficult for older adults to maintain strong social bonds, whether due to a chronic disease or decreased mobility, the benefits make clear just how important it is.

Increased longevity
Numerous studies have been conducted on whether social interactions can have an impact on physical health, and some of the most compelling evidence comes from a 2012 study published in the British Medical Journal. The research, performed by scientists in Sweden, relied on an analysis of more than 1,800 adults who were followed over the course of 18 years. At the end of the study, the team noticed that participants who had a rich or moderate social network lived an average of 5.4 years longer than those without strong bonds.

“Our results suggest that encouraging favorable lifestyle behaviors even at advanced ages may enhance life expectancy, probably by reducing morbidity,” the study team wrote.

Isolation leads to problems
It should not come as much of a surprise that social interaction and longevity are linked, given the number of health problems that can arise if seniors feel isolated or lonely. Among the most serious of these health issues is hardening of the arteries, which is tied to many other cardiovascular conditions, including high blood pressure and heart disease. According to LiveScience, the reason behind this may be the fact that lonely people have a weakened ability to fight off certain maladies.

“What we see is a consistent pattern where it looks like human immune cells are programmed with a defensive strategy that gets activated in lonely people,” Steve Cole, of the University of California, Los Angeles, told the website.

Important for Alzheimer’s disease
Socialization has proven to be particularly effective at helping mitigate some of the hallmark symptoms of Alzheimer’s. According to a 2008 study of more than 2,200 people, having a large social network may not only lower the risk of dementia but it might also slow cognitive decline.