Eating right. Staying active. Having a positive attitude. There is lots of information and advice on how to age gracefully, and you’ve probably heard most of it. But there’s one piece of advice that has been getting more and more attention thanks to a variety of studies: maintain and build personal connections.
“The concept of social connectedness, which is a person’s contact with others, is becoming recognized as a key to healthy aging,” says Kristine Tilton, Executive Director of Waterstone at Wellesley. “Studies have shown that seniors who have relationships and close connections with others are in better health, have less depression and live longer than others who don’t have that social connectedness.”
This information is coming to light from a slew of different resources, particularly the long-running, well-known Harvard Medical School Nurses’ Health Study, as well as through the work of Louis Cozolino, a professor of psychology at Pepperdine University.
“What we’re seeing more and more is that relationships are the most meaningful and important experiences needed for humans to thrive and survive,” says Tilton. “Because we’re social creatures, our brains are wired to connect and interact with others, so maximizing contact and social interaction is good for our brains at any age.”
Why is this the case? One hypothesis is that our stress-response systems are calmed by our personal relationships. High stress is detrimental to our emotional and physical health, but meaningful relationships have the opposite effect and keep our stress low and level. In fact, according to a study of senior residents in Hong Kong, aging adults who spent time developing social relationships had a significant drop in their cortisol levels throughout the day.
Another hypothesis is that bonding with others helps “build our brains,” for lack of a better term. “How we bond and stay attached to others is at the core of our resilience, self-esteem and physical health,” Cozolino writes. “We build the brains of our children through our interaction with them, and we keep our own brains growing and changing throughout life by staying connected to others.”
However, as with most things that are good for us, staying connected and building or strengthening these bonds is easier said than done. As we age, our networks can shift subtly or greatly, depending on our life circumstances. For example, family members and friends may move away. Your health may decline, affecting your ability to get around. You could switch jobs, changing living arrangements or a variety of other factors. As these relationships shift, the risk of loneliness increases.
We tend to think of loneliness as a symptom of something else, like depression or boredom. We may be better served, however, in thinking of it as a factor in and of itself. Loneliness increases the risk of early death in seniors over the age of 60, according to a recent study done by the University of California, San Francisco. It’s also been associated with coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, a lowered immune response, sleep difficulties, depression, cognitive decline and dementia. It’s not known yet why loneliness harms our health in such a way, but the important thing is that we know it does affect us greatly.
What steps can you take in order to stay connected, build relationships and prevent loneliness? Here are a few suggestions:
- Join a club or community group. What do you enjoy doing already? Think about some hobbies or activities you like, and find ways to become involved. Check out your community’s chamber of commerce and Parks and Recreation department to see what’s available.
- Volunteer. Volunteering has many benefits: It helps your community, it allows you to meet new people and also has a lot of emotional and physical benefits.
- Take advantage of technology. Talking with a dear friend or family member can be just a click away. Social media like Facebook and Instagram allow you to send messages instantly, and if you want to actually have a face-to-face conversation with a faraway loved one, Skype and Facetime can have you chatting through video conversations.
- Adopt a pet. Four-legged companionship is just as rewarding as connections with humans. There are many animals in shelters waiting for their forever homes. Consider adopting an older animal who’s been at the shelter for a while and give them a happy new life.
- Change your thinking. Reframing your thoughts can help you overcome loneliness. Sad or lonely people often look for signs of rejection rather than signs of acceptance, which can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Practice mindfulness, positive thinking and meditation in order to help refocus your emotions.
- Move to a new community. A senior living community like Waterstone at Wellesley may be the perfect move for you. Living in a community with like-minded people of similar ages can give you more opportunities to socialize and make friends.
At Waterstone at Wellesley, we understand that wellness is a way of life, and social connectivity plays a huge role in that. Our entire community is designed to help our residents achieve their goals and age well. To help our residents stay connected and build relationships, we’ve partnered with Connected Living®, a social impact organization that helps digitally connect our residents to others who share their interests.
“Our partnership with Connected Living allows our residents to connect with family members and friends through email and video chat, entertain and exercise their brain through games, take online classes and learn more about their interests and so much more,” says Tilton. “Our goal is to help residents maintain an independent, active lifestyle through technology, and we’ve already seen some great results. It’s fun to see our residents learning, achieving and staying active in a whole new way.”
For more information about how personal connections help us age well, or to learn more about how we provide distinctive and luxurious independent and assisted living options for seniors in Wellesley, MA, please contact us at 781.235.1614.
Beautiful Riverfront Community
Located on the banks of the Charles River, Waterstone is Wellesley’s only senior living community, offering premier independent and assisted living. But that’s only the first of many differences that sets Waterstone above and beyond other communities.
Celebrating Dynamic Living
Here our residents live independently in their own private, spacious apartments – but without any of the worries or concerns of homeownership or living alone. All meals are expertly prepared. There aren’t any chores to be concerned with. No home maintenance or repairs to worry about. Just opportunities around every corner and time to spend as they choose – in the company of new friends.
Our vibrant community encourages residents to engage in a variety of recreational, cultural and social programs and activities. Enjoy a fitness class. Swim in the sunny indoor pool. Take a stroll on a walking path. Partake in a favorite hobby or pastime. Discover a new interest. With Waterstone at Wellesley, there’s a world of opportunity waiting right outside our residents’ doors.
Confidence of Care
The hallmark of Waterstone assisted living is the peace of mind we provide both our residents and their families. Knowing that care and support is available right on site instills a sense of confidence and calm one can’t find living alone.
For prospective residents or their families interested in residing at Waterstone at Wellesley, please contact us at 781.235.1614.