Scientists Say Spending Time With Older Parents and Grandparents Helps Them Live Longer
In the old days before there was social media to occupy our every waking moment, we would actually spend physical time with one another. As technology progresses — and young people are isolating themselves more and more with a click or a swipe — loneliness can begin to rear its ugly head. And those social circles tend to get smaller and smaller the older we get. While isolation and loneliness can take its toll on us all, it’s particularly evident with our elders who want to live longer.
There is a sociable solution. According to scientists, spending one-on-one face time — and not through an iPhone — with our aging moms, dads, and grandparents can be good for their longevity and mental health. A collection of recent studies prove that social bonds are extremely important to the overall well-being of a person, and it might help them live longer.
There have been some studies examining loneliness as a predictor of specific health outcomes. The Journal of the American Medical Association conducted a study and found that loneliness is a common source of suffering in older people. It found that one in three people over the age of 60 with fewer social connections and reported feelings of loneliness suffer from poorer health problems.
Loneliness was associated with an increased risk of death over the study’s follow-up period. The study was conducted in a group of 1,600 adults with the average age of 71. The study found that the adults who were lonely consistently held higher mortality rates than those who were not lonely.
“The present study demonstrates that loneliness is an identifiable and measurable risk factor for morbidity and mortality,” the study read. “On the basis of our findings, we hypothesize that health outcomes in older people may be improved by focusing on policies that promote social engagement and, more importantly, by helping elders develop and maintain satisfying interpersonal relationships.”
Another study conducted by the Public Library of Science reported that elderly people who don’t have enough social interaction are twice as likely to die prematurely. The researchers identified 148 prospective studies where they found that people with stronger social relationships had a 50 percent increased chance of survival than those with weaker social relationships.
“These findings indicate that the influence of social relationships on the risk of death are comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity,” the study read.
While people often feel guilty putting their aging parents into nursing homes, they can be comforted to know the interactions they have with each other can be quite beneficial to them.
Dr. Howard Weiner – a neurologist by trade at the Center for Neurologic Diseases at the Brigham And Women’s Hospital — wrote and directed the film The Last Poker Game, which is about an elderly couple who move into a nursing home. Dr. Weiner said that socializing is good for their brains and conducted an experiment with mice to prove that.
“I think the thing people don’t realize about old people, that there are young people inside them, and so those urges and desires are not necessarily gone,” Weiner told Your Daily Dish. “We are trying to develop a vaccine for Alzheimers. With our experiments with mice that are older we have some engaging with toys and playing in their cages and other mice that are just in the cage with nothing. The ones in an enriched environment (with toys) have better brains. Maintaining mental activity and curiosity and being active and engaged really helps their brains.”
With all this in mind — breaking bread and visiting with our older relatives might just help them live longer and happier lives.