People have feelings every moment of every day. Happy, sad, love, hate…you get the idea. The bulk of these feelings come from our everyday interactions with the people around us and the relationships we have and build. These relationships snowball as the years move forward and we get older. For the elderly, who have spent their entire lives interacting with the world and developing personal and professional relationships to fill the feeling of being needed, it can be difficult to grasp that many of these relationships weaken or disappear in their older age. Sometimes this could be because of their deteriorating health or they find it difficult to keep in touch through new technology, this is why some families try their best to provide the easiest cell phone for seniors so their elderly family member can keep in touch.
The need and desire to be needed is significant in the direction our relationships turn as the years move forward. For the elderly, these minimized social interactions can change from happiness to loneliness and depression. This is why many elderly people prefer to find residential care homes in their retirement, as this allows them to constantly interact with other similar people and help them feel needed.
A new article in the Wall Street Journal suggests that the popular notion that seniors are more isolated and lonely than the population at large is a myth, and there is a growing body of evidence indicates that seniors can have as many—or even more social interactions—than those in their 20s or 30s, perhaps it’s thanks to elderly care home facilities such as those like Kew Gardens and many more across the globe taking care of the growing elderly population. However, there still is a significant number of seniors who find themselves isolated because of the death of family and friends, the elimination of work relationships and decreased mobility, says Dr. John Verheul, MD, MPH, a personalized care physician with SignatureMD with a specialty in geriatrics.
When Dr. Verheul first opened his personalized care practice in the Richmond, VA area, he found there was a great need to take the time to interact and talk with his older patients. He found that he could not effectively treat their physical problems without addressing their emotional issues as well – due to the strong link that exists between the physical and the emotional.
A Growing Socialization Population
Dr. Verheul is an expert in geriatrics; so, what has he done to help the senior’s lack of social interaction? He explains:
“I have arranged a “Signature for Singles” club that meets routinely to increase both socialization and physical activities (dancing), encourage patients to participate in volunteer activities by handing out phone numbers of organizations requesting help, and making patients aware of transportation options available to them within the county.”
He explains that it is important to “live in the moment and enjoy that moment now. Don’t focus on the past or the future because this type of talk tends to draw on negatives and unknowns, and that makes people less likely to stop over or just talk, and that includes grandkids.”
Dr. Verheul has reported significant increase in attendance to his senior social gatherings including increased numbers of new friendships built as a result of these regular events he hosts. He says he is seeing his more mobile patients, picking up their new friends who have a difficult time getting around, going out for lunches, volunteering for activities, etc.
Their increased physical and emotional actions results in his ability to better treat his patients.
A Doctor’s In-Depth Look at Socialization
In an interview with Dr. Verheul provides great professional input and personal experience to the importance on socialization, especially in the elderly.
Q: What would you say are a few main reasons for the lack of socializing in seniors?
A: One large factor is lack of mobility (no more driving, hip surgery and immobility, etc.). Another is being moved to a new location, and being unfamiliar with the surroundings or new people.
Q: How can socializing help the quality of life of seniors?
A: Socializing helps people stop internalizing and helps take their mind off of their own issues. They become a part of a group and feel like they are contributing in some way. By talking and sharing stories with people the feeling of being needed and wanted returns. They’ve stopped focusing on the negative things in their lives and begin a state of happiness related to the social interactions/relationships they’ve been able to create.
Q: Are there any necessary tools involved in the act of socializing that are critical to people, including or more importantly to seniors?
A: Some ways include learning to listen and not just always talk about your own issues, learning to use a computer, and learning to arrange transportation for one self as needed. With the “Signature for Singles” event I hosted, my patients have created friendships with each other. For example, I have more mobile patients going over and picking up other patients who have difficulty moving around and going out for lunch or volunteer opportunities.As people age, they can develop a “shell” or become shy about participating in things…..and learning to socialize and be a part of a group so helps remove that issue.
Q: What are some of the most effective ways to increase the quality of life in seniors?
A: Getting involved in activities, and participating in organizations where you can give back some of your skills. This is so important in that all people need and want to feel needed.
Q: Are there any statistics proving seniors suffer (more) due to a lack of social interactions?
A: There is a lot of data, particularly European, which supports the fact that socialization reduces both the incidence and cost of medical problems. This has led to the development of laws, for example, in the Netherlands, that new convalescent centers and retirement communities must have schools built adjacent to them, to allow elders and children to mingle during recess, and where children can “adopt” an elder….and elders can participate in teaching children so much of history and their lives. Studies have been done on this.
Q: What are some ways we can approach getting older so we are not lacking these important social interactions pertinent to our happiness and life?
A: Start developing hobbies NOW and skills that will allow you to participate in organizations (like learning to use a “ham” radio) when you retire and have more free time.
- http://www.johnverheulmd.com/. SMD John Verheul, MD, MPH.
- https://signaturemd.com/. SignatureMD Website.
- http://online.wsj.com/articles/why-everything-you-think-about-aging-may-be-wrong-1417408057?mod=e2tw. Why Everything You Think About Aging May Be Wrong.
- http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/happiness. Happiness Dictionary Page.
- http://www.aasc.org/news/articles/2011/038_Senior_Socialization_Leads_to_Better_Quality_of_Life.php. Senior Socialization Leads to Better Quality of Life.
- http://www.seniorhomes.com/w/seniors-who-socialize-report-more-happiness-study-shows/. Seniors Who Socialize Report More Happiness, Study Shows.
- http://heartsathomeseniorcare.com/the-benefits-of-socializing. The Benefits of Socializing.
- http://www.americangeriatrics.org/. The American Geriatrics Society.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPUlpmBOfbU&feature=youtu.be. Verheul/SMD Patient Appreciation Event on Youtube.com.
- http://rsh.sagepub.com/content/126/3/134.short. Effects of creative and social activity on the health and well-being of socially isolated older people: outcomes from a multi-method observational study.