For many adults, taking the time to see aging parents and family members happens far less than we might hope. According to new research, however, making time to see our elderly loved ones may drastically extend their lives.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco recently discovered that loneliness can lead to functional decline and premature death in elderly patients.
The study, titled “Loneliness in Older Persons” examined 1,600 adults who were an average of 71 years old. According to the study, 23 percent of participants who reported being lonely died within six years of the study. Of those who indicated that they felt supported and had adequate companionship, that number decreased to 14 percent. These results are leading many researchers to the conclusion that quality of life in old age depends on having friends, family and other intimate connections.
Loneliness is at the Heart of Depression & Other Health Conditions for Seniors
This particular study concluded that loneliness is an all-too-real factor in the decline in quality of life in older adults, and leads to depression, cognitive impairment, and other health complications.
“The need we’ve had our entire lives – people who know us, value us, who bring us joy – that never goes away,” Barbara Moscowitz, senior geriatric social worker at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the New York Times.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily new information. Human connection is an important factor to quality of life regardless of age, and has been confirmed by numerous studies.
A 2010 study by Brigham Young University found that many social ties are important when it comes to extending life, proving that people who maintain positive social bonds are likely to live longer than those who age alone.
In a similar fashion, a report by the Study of Ageing at University College, London concluded that individuals over the age of 50 who experience satisfaction in their life overall are more than likely to live to reach an older age.
The Negative Impact of Boredom on Seniors
Similarly, those who experience chronic boredom and a lack of interaction are just as likely to have negative side effects.
“Although people of all ages can become bored, isolated and disconnected, this risk is particularly high for older adults, who are usually no longer working and are more likely to suffer from physical and/or cognitive disabilities, which can make getting out difficult,” writes Laura Ellen Christian. “Living alone can be particularly hard as it can seem nearly impossible to pick up new hobbies or relationships so late in life.”
In these scenarios, it’s more important for seniors to start or maintain their hobbies while also connecting with loved ones.
Hobbies which directly engage the brain are more likely to prevent decline and premature aging, but often elderly family members are simply seeking opportunities to spend more time with family members. Whether this involves weekly game nights, learning how to make wine or take cooking courses, engaging in courses at the university level, or simply spending quality time with younger generations, studies indicate that this can positively correlate with senior quality of life.
Danika McClure is a musician and writer from the Northwest who is passionate about social justice and education.