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Avoiding social isolation: The Magic of Aging

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By R.H. CARTER
Senior Center Director

Aging brings many changes to all of us. Some of the most negative influences on aging are brought on by a feeling of isolation and loneliness. As writers assess the influences on healthy aging, the socialization factor becomes increasingly a major influence.
A few years ago, Barbara Streisand sang, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world”, but the reality is, we all need people, and research studies increasingly prove it.
When experts are asked, “How can I age well?” the normal responses are: exercise your body and brain, eat healthy, get enough sleep, cultivate a positive attitude and socialize with friends. In fact, the importance of socialization is grabbing more attention than ever before. It may be as critical, to longevity as giving up smoking and other unhealthy habits.
Research has found that people with regular social ties are significantly less likely to demonstrate cognitive decline when compared to those who are lonely and isolated.
Avoiding isolation is especially important for caregivers whose stress levels often feel physical and mental ailments. As well-said by one former caregiver, “Each of us needs time for self, for friends, for fun and recreation.
Be a friend. A radio host once said, “A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.” What we love about our friends is that they accept us as we are. They listen without judging. Anyone can learn to do that. Reach out. Sometimes all it takes is a simple invitation: Come sit by me, I’d like to get to know you better.
Volunteer. It’s possible to overcome your own troubles by helping others with their problems. Socialization gives us a sense of belonging, of being part of a community, even of a community of only three or four people. With community comes confidence: By this group, I am valued; what I do with this group gives my life meaning. With confidence comes self-esteem and an increased sense of wellbeing.
But the greatest benefit of socialization is that people who share experiences are much more likely to laugh together, and laughter may be the best boom to longevity we have.