Nursing homes and assisted living facilities must implement and maintain programs, which promote active social interactions among their patients / residents. A long-term care facility’s failure to ensure adequate socialization, and the resulting isolation and loneliness, may in some cases result in severe adverse consequences and may constitute a form of elder abuse and neglect.
Connection to others helps people to survive and thrive. However, the older people get, the more likely they are to suffer from loneliness and social isolation. According to a new research by the University of Texas at Austin, it has been discovered that elderly people who spent more time connecting with a wide range of persons – were more likely to be physically healthy and had a higher level of social and emotional well-being. Many researchers have shown a strong correlation between social interaction among older adults and their health and well-being. For elderly people, social isolation can lead to severe and detrimental consequences. As people grow older, their need for human contact, caring, and encouragement does not diminish. In fact, for elderly individuals, a healthy social life is especially important.
When we grow older, active socialization positively affects our health and well-being. For older people, an active social life can literally prolong their lives. There is no doubt that healthy relationships are important at all ages, but it is difficult to overemphasize the value of socialization for the elderly. Consistent social interactions promote mental, physical and emotional health for individuals. They also ward off the challenges inherent in loneliness.
Loneliness is Harmful for Elderly People
In the United States, the isolation and loneliness of the elderly population is a significant concern. According to the National Poll on Healthy Aging, in the U.S., one in three elderly persons is lonely. In a report sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Michigan University researchers surveyed a sample of around 2,000 Americans in the age range of 50 to 80 years old. The results were as follows:
- less than 33% of the surveyed individuals in the study said they experienced a lack of companionship at least some of the time;
- 27% indicated they felt isolated “sometimes” or “always”;
- most respondents who said they lost companionship (e.g. lost their spouse) often felt isolated, and vice versa;
- about 30% said they socially interacted with friends, relatives or neighbors once a week or less.
Researchers have related social isolation and loneliness to a range of health problems, which have the potential to compromise well-being and the very survival of people. These problems include, but are not limited to, the higher risk of developing the following mental and physical conditions:
- fear and anxiety;
- dementia / Alzheimer’s disease;
- cardiovascular disease and heart attacks;
- low level of functioning;
- weight gain;
- a weakened immune system; and
It has been shown that persistent isolation can impair memory, quality of life, and life expectancy of older adults as much as smoking and even more than being overweight or sedentary.
Individuals who become suddenly alone as a result of a spouse or partner’s death, separation from friends or family, divorce, loss of mobility, and lack of transportation – are at particular risk. By contrast, elderly people who engage with others in positive, productive activities tend to live longer, improve their quality of life, and have a sense of purpose.
Socialization Promotes Well-Being of the Elderly
Socialization builds confidence and encourages individual engagement. Research suggests that social interaction provides health benefits, which may be of particular importance to the elderly. For older people, an inevitable decline in their level of socialization occurs due to a variety of factors, which include the following:
- retirement and the resulting reduced interaction with former colleagues at work;
- deaths of friends and family members; as well as
- moving away from loved ones.
An active level of socialization, however, can promote healthy habits. People who are socially engaged – are more likely to meet other people, quit smoking, and undergo regular health screenings. Joining a group of people with the same interests and preferences makes life more pleasant. For the elderly, such simple social interactions as volunteering can translate into being a catalyst for getting up with a smile. The feeling of optimism and being “needed” can make a huge difference in anybody’s life, regardless of age. The process of social interactions with others also improves self-confidence. Healthy self-esteem and self-confidence, in turn, promote health of the immune system.
Social Interactions Lower the Risk of Dementia
Several studies have indicated that low levels of social interaction can cause cognitive decline and even dementia. On the other hand, it has been shown that socializing in communities can reduce the adverse effects of aging on memory. While it can be difficult to interact with people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, particularly for those who know them well, it can provide significant benefits. Researchers suggest that socialization has many positive benefits for those suffering from dementia, including the following:
- Brain Health: It has long been recognized by scientists that social interaction can help the brain stay healthy. The premise behind this theory is that, just like physical exercise is beneficial for the maintenance of bone mass and muscle tone, the challenges of regular social interactions promote the health and functioning of the brain
- Improvement of Focus: Isolated and lonely elderly people find it difficult to focus. Daily socialization and participation in other mental tasks require attention and concentration and, as a result lead to the improvement in focus.
New locations, big crowds, intensely stimulating events, and other sudden changes, however, may be intimidating. In order to provide the greatest benefit for the elderly nursing home patients and residents of assisted living facilities, socialization needs to take place in a healthy, caring atmosphere. Ideally, dementia patients should be participating in a daily socialization program that offers the warmth of common surroundings and expressions.
Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities Must Ensure Adequate Socialization
Long-term care institutions, such as skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, must provide social support programs. Social activities will improve the quality of life for the facilities’ patients and residents, and will reduce the risks of adverse mental and physical consequences associated with loneliness and lack of socialization.
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