Social vs. Solitude: What’s Best For Seniors?

September 29, 2015

bench_solitudeWhen it comes to the well being of seniors, the majority of attention is paid to physical health. However, medical professionals in a variety of fields can attest to the role that mental health plays in seniors’ overall well being. And many discussions about mental health often center on the ideal amount of time seniors should spend alone and in the company of others.

Seniors are no different from people in other age groups: Some thrive on socialization while others flourish by spending some time alone. The good news is that socialization and solitude can both be beneficial to a senior’s mental health.

Heightened confidence and self-esteem

Some seniors consider their advancing age as proof of their declining importance to family members, friends, and the community. For too many, this phase of their lives is marked by increased insecurity and decreased satisfaction. However, seniors who maintain connectivity with loved ones, acquaintances, and society at large have a better chance of preserving – if not boosting – their confidence and self-esteem.

Better odds of preserving physical health

A healthy mental state boosts a senior’s chance of physical vigor and vitality. From a physical standpoint, socialization among seniors has been linked to:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower stress levels
  • Potentially lower risk of cardiovascular ailments, certain types of cancer, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis 

Lower chance of developing dementia

A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Public Health showed that older women who socialized with others reduced their chance of developing dementia. Other researchers who have studied both men and women reached similar conclusions.

The benefits of solitude

Connectivity clearly has its merits, but it is not without its faults. Perhaps the most pervasive symbol of connectivity is technology. It enables everyone to stay plugged in to personal and public events and issues great and small, but some seniors may consider constant access to information to be overwhelming, intrusive and even frightening. For those individuals, it just makes sense to create buffers that help them preserve their personal mental sanctuary.

The right amount of solitude enables seniors to:

  • Maintain or elevate their levels of creativity
  • Better handle stressful situations
  • Replenish their energy levels

Solitude among seniors is often viewed as a drawback. In 2012, for example, The New York Times reported that physical manifestations of solitude include hypertension, depression, sleep problems and decreased immune response.

Though often equated with ill health and loneliness, solitude – in proper doses – provides an opportunity for solace and renewal. One of the benefits of aging is the opportunity to spend time in quiet repose, immersed in a cherished book, CD or one’s own thoughts. Such moments are as important, and essential, as those spent in the company of others.

For seniors, the right mix of socialization and solitude can have a profound effect on their quality of life.

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