Aging and the importance of social interaction for seniors

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As we get older, it becomes more important than ever to stay connected.

Connection with others is beneficial at any age, but for seniors, it’s especially key. Social isolation or loneliness in older adults is a risk factor for high blood pressure, depression and other concerns, according to the National Institutes of Health. Social interaction, on the other hand, is linked with lower inflammatory factors associated with several age-related disease processes — including Alzheimer’s, heart disease and some forms of cancer. In other words, staying connected may keep us healthy in our golden years.

Whether you’re a senior or you have relatives in their older years, you can find ways to foster social interaction that in turn boosts wellness.

Let youth be contagious

Age is just a number and should not interfere with the importance of social interaction for seniors. Whether you have grandchildren or volunteer at a children’s story or playtime, spending a few hours with energetic tykes can bring more than just a smile to your face and a warm feeling to your heart. Kids’ active nature keeps adults around them on their toes, too. And staying active can help prevent falls.

But kids aren’t required for this youthful effect. Any time spent with others who are young at heart can be beneficial. Attend a yoga or water aerobics class at your nearby community center.

And if you’ve got a senior in your life, invite them out for a stroll.

Build a skill or hobby

No matter our age, we’ve all got talents or interests we hope to develop or improve. Retirement frees up time to do that. Take cooking, wine tasting, writing, woodworking, quilting or other classes. Workshops naturally connect us to like-minded individuals. Learning something new and staying mentally active can reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

Buy your favorite senior a gift certificate for something you think they’d enjoy, or offer to attend a class together.

Volunteer in the community

Volunteer work at a shelter, soup kitchen, hospital, church or your favorite charity can create a connection. The rewarding aspect of helping others adds an extra sense of purpose to life and it can increase positivity. Research shows that optimism in our senior years can enhance health and well-being.

Know of a great volunteer opportunity? Share the information and help your loved one get connected.

Embark on an adventure

If there’s a far-flung city or country you’ve always wanted to visit, plan a vacation. A variety of cruises and other types of tours cater to seniors. Share in the excitement and camaraderie of sightseeing with others. Plus, make new friends in the process.

Research on a family member’s behalf, and help them book tickets or other accommodations. Helping someone plan their dream trip can be a delightful bonding experience.

Engage in technology

One of the easiest ways to stay connected to others is through technology. Use texting, email, video chats and social media to regularly keep in touch with friends and family who live out of state — or even those who live across town. Do your tech skills need a boost? Check with your local library branch to see if they have classes.

If you have a loved one who needs tech help, teach them how to create social media profiles, join online groups and communicate by text.

Consider a four-legged friend

Companionship doesn’t always have to come in human form. Furry friends offer connections, too. Although puppies and kittens can be a lot of work, you can adopt an older Fido or Socks who is already housebroken from a shelter. Rescuing an animal can be rewarding. Plus, taking a pooch for daily walks helps keep you active.

If a senior in your life is interested in a pet, help research appropriate breeds for the living situation and how to go about the adoption process.

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