Aging and Loneliness, A Deadly Combination

“One is the loneliest number”

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”

Robert Browning

“One is the loneliness number that you will ever do.”

*The Beatles’ version is my favorite.

Aging and Socializing, An Important Connection

Two studies came to the same conclusion: as we age, socializing helps keep our minds sharp and, perhaps, even prevents dementia.

Study 1:

The first study was conducted by Dr. Karen Ertel, a post-doctoral fellow at this writing, at the Department of Society, Human Development and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health. Her team found that those socially integrated (socially active) had less than half the memory decline of those who were socially isolated.

Dr. Ertel’s team collected data from 17,000 Americans who were fifty years older. The subjects were studied for over six years.

Social activity included being involved in volunteer activities, interacting with neighbors and friends, and seeing children, grandchildren, and other family members. Interestingly, those who maintained social involvement also exercised, engaged in intellectual activities such as reading, and were careful about their diets.

Unfortunately, the death of a spouse presents older people with the risk of suffering and grief so much that they withdraw and become depressed. Widows and widowers gradually recover from the losses they suffered. Their ability to resume active lives depends upon the availability of a community to be involved with.

Study 2:

The second study was conducted by Dr. Valerie Crooks, director of clinical trials at the Southern California Permanente Medical Group.

This study focused on women at least 78 years of age who were free of dementia. The subjects were studied from 2001 through 2005 and included 456 women and their social networks.

The findings were that those women with the most robust social networks were less likely to develop symptoms of dementia over the five years of the research.

The strength of social networks included such criteria as to how frequently the subject contacted friends and family, how often they confided in a friend or friends, and whether they had the type of friends that could be confidants.

Discussion:

Both studies clarify that remaining involved helps people maintain physical and mental health. In addition, social isolation has adverse effects on physical and mental health as we age.

Not Only Age:

Some state and restated by mental health practitioners and researchers that social isolation is unhealthy for people of all ages. The research shows that isolation is closely associated with feelings of depression. Of course, the question is whether depression causes isolation or isolation causes depression? It is tempting to suggest that it does not matter because helping people to socialize, regardless of their stage of life, goes a long way toward reducing depression.

We are social creatures and feel better when involved with other human beings. 

1. For the elderly, it is essential to remain socially involved to reduce the chances of developing either dementia or depression.

2. For younger people, it is equally important to have a circle of friends with whom they can talk, have fun, and engage in productive activities.