The cognitive benefits of being a senior social butterfly

Mar 25, 2023
A simple catch up with friends or joining a group class offers a number of benefits for your cognitive health. Source: Getty

In Australia, 25 per cent of older adults aged 65 and older live alone, with the numbers only increasing as the years go by. While there’s nothing wrong with seniors preserving their independence, it’s important to remember that humans are inherently social creatures– and that doesn’t change as we get older.

Our world and lives become brighter and more fulfilling with the presence of friends who provide us with both joy and support. Friends celebrate our achievements, offer us comfort, and share in our grief.

Just as importantly socialising can have a significant impact on the cognitive well-being of older adults. Regular and positive social interactions can keep seniors mentally stimulated, intellectually engaged, and mentally sharp.

To help fully understand the cognitive benefits of socialisation for older adults, Starts at 60 spoke to  Lysn Psychologist, Nancy Sokarno.

Socialisation and your brain

According to Sokarno, socialisation is essential for brain health because it plays an important role in promoting cognitive and emotional well-being.

“Socialising with others helps to stimulate the brain and keep it active, which is important for maintaining cognitive function as we get older,” she says.

“Social interaction provides us with a sense of belonging and connectedness to others, which in turn can help to improve our self-esteem and also reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. It also helps improve our mood and overall well-being.”

Studies show that when we spend time with people we enjoy, our brains release feel-good hormones like oxytocin, which can help to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.

How does a lack of social interaction affect cognitive development? 

A lack of social interaction can significantly impact cognitive development because it requires communication, listening, and problem-solving, which can help to enhance cognitive function. When we engage in conversations and discussions with others, we are challenged to think critically, recall information, regulate our emotions and analyse new ideas.

This type of mental stimulation helps to keep our brains active and can even reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Our memory, attention spans, ability to regulate emotions and problem-solving abilities are impacted by social interaction and without it, these things may unfortunately decline.

You can reap the benefits of socialising with friends no matter how big or small the gathering is. Source: Getty

Key benefits of having a senior social life 

Sokarno also notes that seniors who maintain a satisfying social life are likely to steer clear of numerous physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges that are faced by isolated older adults.

Some of these positive mental health benefits include:

  • Socialisation can reduce stress: Social interaction can help to reduce stress levels by providing emotional support and a sense of belonging. It can help alleviate feelings of isolation or loneliness and in turn, assist in improving overall mood.
  • It can increase self-esteem: Interacting with others can help you feel more confident and positive about yourself. It can also offer you the ability to relate to others, often making you feel a sense of belonging while reminding you that you are not alone. What’s more, having a strong social network can help you to cope better with life’s challenges and better bounce back from any setbacks.
  • It allows for better cognitive function: Some studies show that socialisation can help to keep your mind active and engaged, which can improve cognitive function and delay cognitive decline.
  • Socialisation reduces the risk of depression and anxiety: Studies have also shown that people who have strong social support networks are less likely to experience depression and anxiety.

How do you socialise after 60?

How to navigate your senior social life really depends on the things that you enjoy, along with the things that you are physically able to do.

A great way to socialise is by joining a social group or club that caters to your interests, such as a book club, a gardening group, a dance group, or a community service group. You could also join a volunteer group which can be a great way to meet new people and give back to your community.

Another way to socialise is by attending community events that can provide you with opportunities to meet new people and socialise with others.

You could also try taking a class or course in a subject that interests you where you’ll be able to meet like-minded people who share similar interests.

A great way to meet like-minded over-60s right around Australia is at your local Starts at 60 Meet Up event. Hosted by volunteers from the Starts at 60 community, Starts at 60 Meet Ups takes place once a month across the country where attendees catch up over coffee or lunch, and most importantly good company. Most events are held at the same location on the same day of each month so you can get to know a group near you and build friendships in your own community.

Social media can also be a great tool to stay connected with others! Try to reconnect with old friends, family members, or even fellow pupils you attended school with.

Maintaining the friends you already have is equally as important as making new ones. Source: Getty

How older adults can nurture the friendships they already have

Maintaining friendships is important in all stages of life, however, it can be a little challenging for those over 60 due to things like retirement, health issues, and family obligations. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t maintain your friendships!

For any age, the key to maintaining friendships is in making the effort to stay in touch. Sokarno reiterates that regular communication really is the key to maintaining any friendship and it’s especially important as you get older, and time can slip by.

“Those over 60 years of age can stay in touch with their friends via phone, email, or even social media,” she says.

“It’s essential to make an effort to reach out and check in with friends regularly, even if it’s just for a quick ‘how are you going’ chat or a message to let them know you are thinking of them.”

She also suggests trying to plan regular get-togethers, as this is another great way to keep friendships strong. This could be anything from a weekly coffee date to a monthly lunch or dinner, or even exploring new activities together.

Trying new things can also be an excellent way to deepen friendships because it provides an opportunity to spend quality time together but also allows for personal growth and exploration.

Stay connected and improve your cognitive health

While you don’t necessarily have to be the centre of attention at social events, simply attending and participating in them can already offer numerous advantages.

Although it may be daunting to meet new people, remember it can also be enjoyable and does wonders for your mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

Make the most of the convenient chances you have to socialise, and if you have a tight-knit group of friends, make an effort to sustain that connection.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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