6 ways socializing in a retirement community can improve seniors’ health

Excerpt: Social isolation increases the risks of heart disease, infectious illness, anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline. Retirement living can contribute to a solution by offering seniors more daily opportunities to socialize with peers through recreational activities, themed social events, discussion groups and meals with friends. Socializing in a retirement community can improve health by strengthening the heart, reducing depression and anxiety, boosting brain health and immunity, and encouraging more physical activity.

February can be such an isolating month for seniors when it’s hard to get out and connect with other people. Research has linked social isolation to increased risks of high blood pressure*, heart disease, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and even premature death, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Retirement living can contribute to a solution for isolation by providing older adults with a warm, welcoming, and safe atmosphere to socialize with peers as often as they wish each day. Retirement communities offer many built-in opportunities to socialize through recreational programs and activities, themed social events, hobby clubs, art classes, discussion groups, live entertainment, dining with friends, or chatting with neighbours next door or down the hall.

A Northwestern University study found that residents of retirement communities reported improved social wellness, lower levels of loneliness, better self-reported health*, and more healthy behaviours than demographically similar older adults who do not live in retirement communities.

Here are some ways socializing in a retirement community can help boost physical and mental health:

  1. Strengthen your heart. Seniors who felt socially isolated were 66% more likely to develop heart disease, or suffer a heart attack or stroke*, than those who were socially connected, reported a 2021 BMC Geriatrics study. Older adults with heart failure who maintained strong social connections had better outcomes* than patients who were socially disconnected, according to a 2022 Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine study.
  2. Improve mood and ease anxiety. A 2022 Frontiers in Public Health study found social participation in recreational activities* reduced the risk of depression in older adults. People who feel connected to others have lower rates of depression and anxiety*, according to Psychology Today.
  3. Keep your mind sharp. Brain scans of older adults who reported higher levels of social engagement showed more robust gray matter in regions relevant in dementia*, which suggests socialization may protect against cognitive decline, according to a 2020 Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences study. A University College London study found that older adults who visited with friends almost daily were 12% less likely to develop dementia than those who only saw one or two friends every few months.
  4. Encourage more physical activity. Older adults who spend more time interacting with people beyond their usual social circle* of family and close friends are more physically active and have fewer negative feelings, reported a University of Texas at Austin study.
  5. Bolster immunity. Social isolation and loneliness impair the immune system*, making people less resistant to diseases and infections, according to a 2020 McGill University study. Social bonds strengthen immunity* by stimulating the release of the body’s natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that destroys harmful bacteria and viruses, reported a Trends in Cognitive Sciences study.
  6. Lower disability risk. Older adults who regularly laughed in conversations with friends reduced their risk of functional disability by over 30%* compared to those who laughed alone, reported a 2022 Preventive Medicine study.

Chartwell retirement residences provide a variety of ways to stay socially active on your own terms, including fitness classes, themed events, clubs, and outings that provide a natural way to connect with other residents. Explore our life enrichment programming—as well as our signature social programming, Ports of Call—by visiting chartwell.com today!

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

  1. National Institute on Aging. "Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks"(2019), Online: https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/social-isolation-loneliness-older-people-pose-health-risks
  2. Washingtonian. "New Study Reveals Significant Health Benefits to Living in a Life Plan Community"(2018), Online: https://www.washingtonian.com/2018/11/05/new-study-reveals-significant-health-benefits-to-living-in-a-life-plan-community/
  3. Medical Xpress. "Poor social health a predictor for cardiovascular disease"(2021), Online: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-12-poor-social-health-predictor-cardiovascular.html
  4. MedicalNewsToday. "Heart failure: Strengthening social bonds could improve recovery rates"(2022), Online: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/heart-failure-strengthening-social-bonds-could-improve-recovery-rates
  5. frontiers. "Impact of Social Participation Types on Depression in the Elderly in China: An Analysis Based on Counterfactual Causal Inference"(2022), Online: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2022.792765/full
  6. Psychology Today. "Social Connection Boosts Health, Even When You're Isolated"(2020), Online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-it/202003/social-connection-boosts-health-even-when-youre-isolated
  7. Psychology Today. "How Social Connections Improve Your Brain Health"(2020), Online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-right-mindset/202010/how-social-connections-improve-your-brain-health#:~:text=How%20Social%20Connections%20Improve%20Your%20Brain%20Health%20%7C,importance%20of%20social%20engagement%20for%20a%20healthier%20brain.
  8. UCL News. "Socially active 60-year-olds face lower dementia risk"(2019), Online: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2019/aug/socially-active-60-year-olds-face-lower-dementia-risk
  9. ScienceDaily. "Interacting with more people is shown to keep older adults more active"(2019), Online: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190220074610.htm
  10. CTV News. "Loneliness can directly impair immune system, increase risk of death: study"(2020), Online: https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/loneliness-can-directly-impair-immune-system-increase-risk-of-death-study-1.4986159
  11. ScienceDirect. "The Neurobiology of Social Distance"(2020), Online: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364661320301406
  12. Havard Health Publishing. "Laughing with friends linked to lower risk of disability"(2022), Online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/laughing-with-friends-linked-to-lower-risk-of-disability#:~:text=Compared%20with%20people%20who%20typically%20laughed%20alone%2C%20people,was%20the%20cause%20of%20people%E2%80%99s%20improved%20physical%20function.