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Why social interaction is beneficial for older people

Two old friends

Human beings are social creatures. We thrive on connections with others, on companionship, in relationships, communities and societies. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule but there are fundamental benefits to social interaction, for all people, but especially for those of older age. When we get older, isolation can become more common, for example, users of stairlifts sometimes find it harder to get out of the house and make those all-important connections. In this guide, we present a series of benefits of social interaction for older people, highlighting its importance, and what it can do for you.

It promotes safety and security

Being around others has the natural tendency to make us feel safer. Being alone and isolated from a friend, family, and a community tends to bring about a more fearful emotional state whereas companionship lets us know that we are not alone, that help is not far away. This is one of the major benefits of social interaction. When you are alone at home, a fall can be a scary notion, but being around others provides comfort in case of an accident.

Further, fostering connections with neighbours builds a support network in your local area. Second Wind Movement, a retirement lifestyle programme, talks about how social interaction can provide safety: “Simply by being around others, you’ll be more likely to live safely. Not only can someone help you if you have a bad fall, but you can also lean on your community and circle of influence for a plethora of other non-ideal situations that may arise.”

It prevents feelings of isolation

Daughter and mother

Feelings of isolation and loneliness are common in older age, with the passing of loved ones, children moving away, and limited mobility all playing a factor. Getting out of the house or cultivating social connections in your local area can prevent those feelings of isolation from taking hold, reminding you that you are not alone and that there are people who care about you. By inviting neighbours over for lunch or meeting a friend in the park for a chat, or even by staying connected with family online, your social instincts will be satiated, and you will feel integrated with the world around you, not isolated.

The impact of isolation and the remedy of everyday interactions is something that Kathy, from the ageing resource When They Get Older, highlighted when speaking with us: “One thing I think many of us have learned over the past two years is how much social interaction each one of us needs. Some people like to be surrounded by company at all times and have struggled during lockdown. Others have found a sense of peace in temporary solitude. Most are somewhere in between. What’s important is being free to make a choice.

“It’s when isolation is thrust upon us that loneliness becomes a challenge. Losing a partner or friends, for example, can drive isolation, and it’s then that older people might look outside for new companions of all ages. It’s good to find others who can share conversations and activities - and just make the day a little bit richer.”

It allows you to connect and confide in others

While some people can learn to enjoy their own company and get on just fine alone, social interaction fulfils an innate need of the human body and soul to connect with others while also providing opportunities to confide in someone. Sometimes it’s helpful to seek advice or unburden yourself when you have been struggling. By fostering relationships and interactions, those opportunities to connect and benefit from someone else’s perspective present themselves, helping you to see things in another light. It’s often just nice to let someone in and open your heart to another person, providing a cathartic experience and a platform for you to get over difficulties.

It improves mental health 

Three old friends

The benefit of social interaction on a person’s mental health cannot be understated. Mental health is important at any point in life and is not something that should be ignored for those reaching older age.

Susan, from the women’s community Sassy Sister Stuff, explains how a lack of social connection can have a negative impact on mental health: “Social interaction for older people can make a significant difference in their quality of life. People are wired to seek and develop social bonds right from birth. Unfortunately, as we get older, our social opportunities generally decrease, and we risk becoming isolated and lonely. Naturally, this can lead to depression and other mental and physical health issues. We need to encourage our older generation to consistently maintain satisfying social interactions.”

As Susan touches on, feelings of depression are not uncommon, especially for those who are grieving or are struggling with an illness. Connecting with others, however, can instead foster feelings of happiness, improving one’s mood and providing a more positive outlook. Relationships can help us to feel fulfilled and improve our self-esteem and also provide a welcome distraction from trials and tribulations.

It can introduce you to new things

Social interaction requires a person to sometimes step out of their comfort zone, especially if they are used to being alone and doing things their way. Speaking to us on the topic, Rachel New, a dating and relationship coach, shared what making new connections can lead to:

“Social interaction is essential to give us the energy and motivation to keep moving forward. It can be so easy to stay at home and enjoy the comfort of routine and familiarity. But meeting new people – although it can feel like we’re stepping outside our comfort zone - is a great way to stimulate our minds and give us the chance to try new things. Dating gives us a reason to go to the theatre, try a new café or walk, visit an exhibition or get recommendations for books, films or radio programmes.”   

Rachel also offered a tip for those who are looking to date: “Approach dating with a sense of curiosity, the aim of learning from someone else and what it feels like to be them. It’s easy to focus on ourselves, our needs and our points of view when we’re getting to know others, but it’s much more interesting to treat a date as an opportunity to explore new ways of living and seeing the world!”

It’s good for your brain

Social interaction is also physically good for the brain, acting as a kind of exercise. Keeping social connections and interactions with others has been found to increase blood flow to the brain, helping to reduce symptoms of dementia such as deteriorating memory. In fact, it has been found that those with social interactions are a quarter less likely to develop dementia than those with few relationships and interactions. So, in the interest of keeping your brain in tip-top shape by giving it a workout, make sure to cultivate those connections for a healthier future.

It encourages activity 

Couple walking

The very nature of social interaction can lead itself to increased activity, encouraging us to get up and about, to engage in exercise. Being alone and isolated at home often results in us being sedentary, sitting around, instead of getting the movement that our bodies need. Of course, social interaction doesn’t have to mean anything strenuous but something simple as a chat in the park with a friend or family member can lead to you stretching your legs and getting some fresh air. Even the act of meeting someone outside of the house will mean that at least some gentle activity will be required, getting the blood flowing, the muscles moving, and providing a change of scenery which is also mentally beneficial.

How to increase social interaction

We have spoken to Helen, founder of togetherfriends, a friendship site for women to meet new friends in the UK. She spoke to us about the importance of social interaction and imparted some helpful tips for increasing these connections:

“Social interaction is so important, whatever a person's age or circumstance. It is good to be able to enjoy your own company, but this needs to be mixed with social connections - connecting with others gives a person better mental health, lightening your mood and making you feel happier. Social interaction has been proven to be good for brain health and it promotes a sense of safety, belonging and security. It allows you to reach out for support.

“There are many ways that social interaction can be increased. In many towns, there are charities/voluntary groups that offer volunteer services, e.g., where a befriender will visit regularly for a chat or to take a person out. Shopping services are also sometimes on offer if a person is housebound. It is worth seeking out via the library, online, noticeboards, local newspapers and the Citizens Advice Bureau what is on offer locally.”

Helen also points out that “if someone is housebound, there will also be care agencies which offer companionship,” but that these will be paid services.

She also highlighted that there are often local groups on offer that a person can join: “A community church group, charities such as Age UK may have groups locally or know what is available to older people.” She also recommends U3A (University of the Third Age), which “offers a wide range of classes which might be of interest.”

Helen also pointed people to “online friendship sites such as togetherfriends, if a person is able to use the computer and wishes to connect online initially.”

Susan, from Sassy Sister Stuff, shared these suggestions with us for increasing social interaction: “Some of the best opportunities for social interaction can be found in community activities such as volunteering at the local animal shelter, joining a low-impact exercise class at the local indoor pool, reading to elementary school students at a local school, or trying a new hobby class at the local craft store. Older people should also be encouraged to visit with long-time friends, spend time outside in the fresh air, talk to friends and family on the phone, and even consider going to church. Regular social interaction among the elderly will lead to happier, more fulfilling, and healthier lives.”

The benefits of social interaction for older people

  • It promotes safety and security
  • It prevents feelings of isolation
  • It allows you to connect and confide in others
  • It improves mental health
  • It can introduce you to new things
  • It’s good for your brain
  • It encourages activity

These are just some of the many benefits of social interaction for older people. Keeping connected with others has a truly holistic impact on our lives, benefiting everything from our brains and mental health to our fitness and sense of safety.

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This news article is from Companion Stairlifts. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.