Ellen on Positive Aging Part 3: Gather together

Gather Together—Social Connections

“There is no such thing as a happy hermit”(Chris Peterson).

Substantial evidence now indicates that individuals lacking social connections are at risk for poor health and premature mortality. The risk associated with social isolation and loneliness is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality, including those identified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—including physical inactivity, obesity, diabetes, substance abuse, mental health problems, poor environmental quality, and lack of access to health care.

One article I read, published in Psychological Science in 2015 predicts that social isolation and loneliness will reach epidemic proportions by 2030 unless society recognizes the risks.

And what about those who have deep social connections and strong networks? One of many studies shows that “SuperAgers” in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, with such connections, have cognitive or physical function equal to that of people decades younger.

Researchers from a Northwestern University group recognized some time ago that that cognitive SuperAgers have distinctive brain features: thicker cortexes, a resistance to age-related atrophy, and a larger left anterior cingulate (a part of the brain important to attention and working memory).

But brain structure alone doesn’t fully account for SuperAgers’ unusual mental acuity. For their new study, the researchers asked 31 SuperAgers and 19 cognitively “normal” older adults to fill out a 42-item questionnaire about their psychological well-being. The SuperAgers stood out in one area: the degree to which they reported having satisfying, warm, trusting relationships. (In other areas, such as having a purpose in life or retaining autonomy, they were much like their “normal” peers.) This finding is consistent with other research linking positive relationships to a reduced risk of cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia.

Loneliness and isolation are health epidemics.

Gather Together— with age-mates, friends and family, and across-generations. Share stories and hugs—avoid Social Isolation, even (maybe especially) if you tend to be an introvert. Embrace those “organ recitals.” Share, share, share.

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One Response to Ellen on Positive Aging Part 3: Gather together

  1. Frances C. Robinson says:

    This interview is 24 minutes long but it’s very interesting.

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