Friendship among the elderly proves vitally important
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By Julie Ann Anderson  August 14, 2014 10:23 am

Sometimes it seems everything your doctor orders for good health could be unpleasant, painful or plain boring. But there’s one prescription that is enjoyable for most of us, it might even save your brain. It’s socializing!

Having a social network that is face to face has been found to extend life, the quality of life and help reduce the risk of dementia. There is more than 100 years’ worth of research confirming the importance of an active social life for the body, mind and spirit. 

Socializing has been linked to lower blood pressure, improved immune system function, wound healing and lowered inflammation.

Social isolation, by contrast, can be worse for your long-term health than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and twice as bad as obesity. Research is finding the good effect of companionship – marriage, romantic or otherwise – are so profound that an active social life may be the next prescription from your doctor.

Recent studies show older folks with a mean age of 80 found the most socially active have had one-fourth the cognitive decline of the least social.  Social interactions such as going to restaurants, sporting events, taking trips with friends, visiting relatives, volunteering, attending religious services and even participating in group activities can help you test cognitively higher than those isolated.

 

Five things socializing does for your brain

Friendship is a great investment for the brain and body. It also helps lift spirits and that includes relationships with animal friends. Consider these benefits:

• 1. Lowers blood pressure and inflammation and thus heart disease and risk of stroke and other brain damage.

 

• 2. Improves immune system functioning, lowers risk from disease that could impact your brain.

 

• 3. Helps you take better care of your health, for the ones you care about if not for yourself.

 

• 4. Lowers or delays risk of memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease by keeping your brain active.

 

• 5. Relieves pain: just holding hands with someone you care about lowers pain perception.

Being socially involved improves cognition in general and seems to help delay the arrival of dementia. As we age, old friends pass away, and it is not easy to make new ones as when we were younger and connected through work, school and children’s activities. Moving from familiar and established neighborhoods to be closer to our families as we age can also disconnect us from friends and activities.

It takes courage to put yourself out there in an unfamiliar place, put on a friendly smile and face possible rejection, but it is so worth it. There are still plenty of ways to meet and get to know new friends. Here are some ways to widen your social circle.

• Show up and pay attention.

 

• Accept all invites (within reason) to social activities.

 

• Attend an art gallery opening,  fundraising events and community celebrations, even if you must go alone.

 

• Join a group, take a class, or volunteer. Sign up for a lecture, find a walking group, volunteer at the library, local animal shelter, museum or non-profit. Senior centers offer a range of classes from dance and exercise to discussion groups. There are also religious organizations you can join.

 

• Befriend friends of friends. Someone you like a lot probably has friends that you will like, too. Invite them to join you at an event or for lunch, a movie or play. Tell your friends you are looking to expand your social circle.

 

• Consider adopting or fostering a pet. Animal companions offer lots of love and are great icebreakers. Pet sit for a friend or foster pet in your home short term. Pet rescues or trained service animals are looking for animal lovers for short term sheltering.

 

• Consider traveling with a tour group. Either domestically or abroad and expand your horizons with like-minded people. A special trip with a grandchild too can be rewarding and a bonding experience.

 As human beings, we are social by nature, and as we age that does not change.

 

Julie Ann Anderson is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park; mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors and caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.

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