Strong Family Connections Are Good for Seniors’ Health
There are many good reasons to maintain strong family connections, but did you know that your senior’s health is one of them? Research has shown that loneliness can have a physical (not just emotional) impact on the elderly.
In multiple studies, seniors who have satisfying ties with their families are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer. Sadly, that means the opposite is also true: The fewer or less satisfying the social ties, the higher the risk of depression, cognitive decline, and mortality.
Solid social connections are a reliable biomarker of long-term health, which means staying close to your elderly loved one can be as beneficial to them as good sleep, a healthy diet, and not smoking. Here’s how having a close family specifically benefits seniors:
- Longer life. Elders who are well connected to their families are more likely to live longer than those who are isolated. One study found that a lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50 percent! (The researchers also noted that lack of social ties made the mortality risk about the same as smoking 15 cigarettes a day—and even greater than being obese or physically inactive.) Even for seniors in late stages of dementia, having strong family ties makes a difference in prolonging life, as well as improving the quality of life.
- Stronger immune systems. “Social seniors” often have stronger immune systems than their lonely counterparts; and social well-being may contribute to lower levels of an inflammatory factor implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer. Socially active seniors also have more opportunities to stay physically active—which can help reduce stress, anxiety, and arthritis pain as well as lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems.
- Improved mental health. It’s been reported that seniors who are close to their families have better mental health and less depression than those who do not. Regular family interactions—having someone to talk to and spend time with—reinforces the feelings of being cared about and valued. Staying active with hobbies, volunteering, and outings with others also helps produce a more positive outlook by offering enjoyable and meaningful ways to spend time.
- Better brain health. Researchers have found links between loneliness and cognitive impairment; social seniors typically have a higher level of cognitive function. One study showed those who described themselves as happy and engaged in social activities were more likely to have an increase in their memory cognitive and thinking skills, while those who didn’t experienced a decline in cognitive abilities. A Swedish study concluded that dementia risk in people over the age of 75 was lowest for those who had a variety of satisfying contacts with family and friends.
Staying Close and Connected
Showing emotional support for an elderly loved one can take many forms—stopping by for a visit, doing simple household tasks, running errands, or bringing them along for family gatherings all increase connection with your loved one. There’s an added bonus for showing those expressions of connection and care: Research shows the life-enhancing benefits affect the giver as well as the receiver. (That makes family closeness a win-win!)
Technology has made regular communication with your loved one easier than ever with text messaging, email, social media, and Skype or FaceTime. That said, “traditional” methods of social interaction may be more meaningful to the older generation—with letters, phone calls, and face-to-face visits being especially valued.
Community Makes a Difference Too
Not every senior has family nearby, but having other strong relationships can also be beneficial. Seniors can enjoy the same health benefits that close family connections offer by strengthening current friendships and making new ones.
At Hearthstone Senior Living, our communities are designed to maximize seniors’ social well-being, with many opportunities for building new friendships, involving families in our resident’s daily lives, and encouraging visits from friends who live elsewhere.
Beyond this, our caring employees often become a close “second family” to our residents. Hearthstone understands how long-term ties that build trust, connection, and participation directly impact physical health, emotional health, and quality of life. At Hearthstone, our residents truly feel the warmth of family.
For more information, we invite you to call or stop by for lunch and a visit.