As the admissions counselor for Assisted Living at NewBridge on the Charles, I frequently talk to families of seniors about the advantages of an assisted living lifestyle. While supports like meal preparation, medication reminders and bathing and dressing help can be brought into a senior’s home, assisted living communities offer residents the added benefit of living among a community of peers and caring staff members. I’ve seen seniors not only gain the physical care they need but also regain access to the human connections that give life meaning and purpose. Here are some interesting facts about how even minimal daily social contact can improve an elder’s health:
Social isolation is associated with a wide range of health problems.
Studies have shown that a lack of regular social contact is associated with increased blood pressure, inflammation of the body, impaired immune function, and even earlier onset and progression of dementia.
These risk factors are present for all isolated seniors, not just the lonely.
Social isolation, in itself, is a health risk independent of the experience of loneliness. That is to say that even for people who are happy in solitude, increased social contact improves health outcomes. Some speculate this has to do with improved impulse control and an increase in healthy behaviors in environments with consistent social contact.
It’s not about “being social.”
In my conversations about moving to assisted living with family members, so many adult children have said things to me like, “Mom is not social,” or “Dad is not going to be interested in going to programs.” Socialization in this context is about human contact and interaction with others, not necessarily being the life of the party. Socialization takes as many forms as there are personality types. Some residents take part in daily lectures and performances, but frequently prefer to dine alone in their apartments. Others look forward to our restaurant-style dining room as a daily place to connect with peers, yet wouldn’t think of attending an organized program. The best assisted living communities will encourage residents to take advantage of communal activities but also honor their preferences and respect their right to privacy.
By living in an intentional community like assisted living, the basic human need of feeling “seen” and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that they are never truly alone may ultimately make the most difference.