As a person ages, social interaction and companionship plays a significant role in mental and physical health.
Developing children, for instance, need physical touch and interaction in order to thrive cognitively and emotionally. The same is true as people go through the aging process. Many elderly individuals suffer from loneliness and isolation, simply because they are homebound and unable to interact with others.
One of the best ways to stay active socially is to get involved in groups or activities, which are commonly found at the local senior centers or assisted living communities. The benefits are plentiful, from making new friends with similar interests to feeling as though you are a part of a community.
Here are some of the added benefits gained by joining a senior or assisted living center:
• A sense of community: No matter what age, people enjoy feeling a part of a community. The sense of belonging can help a person feel connected and provide positivity among peers.
• Better physical health: Studies show that people who are regularly engaged in social activities are generally healthier. Being social helps boost positive feelings that alleviate stress, and as a result keep the body healthier longer.
• Lower rate and risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s: Research studies show that individuals who are socially active and spend regular time with others have a lower rate of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia-related conditions than those who remain alone and in isolation most days.
Companionship keeps the mind sharp, especially when humor and wit are introduced into conversation. David Troxel is a well-known author on this topic; his book “The Best Friend’s Approach” is a guideline for local memory care communities and he often trains staff in the importance of companionship.
Another way to get involved and reap the benefits of companionship is to volunteer. Whether done in a hospital, senior center, assisted living or even at the humane society, volunteering is a way to give back to the community while gaining so much more.
Here are few ideas for volunteering in your own community and why companionship is so important:
• Provide home care to others: Instead of relying on others to provide care for you, lend a helping hand if you are physically able to get out and volunteer. Hospitals, home health agencies and senior centers provide ways for individuals to volunteer their time offering companionship to others. The sense of enjoyment you gain is only half of the available benefit found in volunteering; you may just make a new friend.
• Take part in congregate meal programs: A congregate meal program is designed for seniors to feel a sense of belonging, as nothing brings people together quite like a warm meal on a cold evening. Congregate meals are served in a community forum and are tended to be a socially active place to gather and share stories.
Talks of family and friends, discussions about daily news topics and laughing at jokes are just some of the ways seniors can enjoy each other’s companionship over a hot meal. The meal programs are designed to be nutritious and a high point in the day for a senior who longs for a sense of belonging.
Sandra Cook is the marketing director for Aegis Lodge in Kirkland. Contact her at (425) 814-2841.