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Aging and Socializing, An Important Connection

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Two recent 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 the Department of Society, Human Development and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health. Her team found that those people who were 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 of age older. The subjects were studied over a period of six years.

Social activity included such things as 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, loss of a spouse presents older people with the risk of suffering grief to such an extent that they withdraw and become depressed. While widows and widowers gradually recover from the losses they suffered their ability to resume active lives depends upon the availability of a community for them 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 and 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 strongest social networks were less likely to develop symptoms of dementia over the five years of the research.

Strength of social network included such criteria as how frequently the subject kept in contact with friends and family, how often they confided in a friend or friends and whether or not they had the type of friends that could be confidants.

Discussion:

What both of these studies clarify is the fact that remaining socially involved helps people maintain physical and mental health. In addition, social isolation has negative effects on physical and mental health as we age.

Not Only Age:

It has been stated and restated by mental health practitioners and researchers that social isolation is unhealthy for people of all ages. My observation has been that isolation is closely associated with feelings of depression. Of course, the question is whether the depression causes isolation or the isolation causes depression? I am tempted to suggest that it does not matter because, according to what I have observed, helping people to socialize, regardless of their stage of life, goes a long way to reducing depression.

We are social creatures and feel better when involved with other human beings. 1. For the elderly, it is important to remain socially involved as a way of reducing the chances of developing either dementia or depression and, 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.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

Keep Reading By Author Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.
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