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Transitions in Aging

Successful Aging

Social Well-being and Aging

  • As we age, our social networks may get smaller

Line drawing of a community of people standing together


NEXT: Spiritual Well-being and Aging


Notes and References

Our social networks, or the amount of people around us, may become smaller with age.1



When we get older and reach retirement age, we may choose to retire from our work or adult day programs, which can lead to less regular contact with our co-workers or friends in the adult day program. Seeing our friends less frequently can make us feel alone and isolated.2 Social support has been shown to protect us against dementia or the cognitive decline mentioned in the last slide.3 It can also help improve our ability to cope with emotional issues.3 When our social well-being is low, we could be at a higher risk for other health issues, such as, living a shorter life, and an overall decrease in happiness with our lives.3 Therefore, being socially engaged is a key component to aging successfully.

A starting point to becoming socially active is to engage in activities with family. Family can act as the social network that is constant in our lives. With their support, we should be open to hanging out with our friends when they reach out to us. With friends and family, we can explore local events in the community that may allow us to meet more people to add to our social networks. When we have more people in our social networks we have a better chance of being supported through difficult times. Religious organizations, such as a church, can be another way to be socially engaged. Many people from the community come together at least once a week to engage in spiritual practice. We can start by saying "yes" when asked to spend time with people in our social network because, ultimately, we are meant to be social!3

Let's see how Joseph tried to expand his social network. Joseph always needs a little push to hang out with friends and family. He really enjoys spending time at home, alone, or just being with his wife. Sometimes he thinks that if he just says "yes" to seeing his brothers and their families once in a while, then everyone will stop pressuring him. His brother was throwing a birthday party for his niece and Joseph's wife really wanted to go, so Joseph decided to say "yes" this time. While at the party, Joseph met a family friend named Bob who loves antiques as much as Joseph, and they talked about their interests for the majority of the party. Joseph had such a good time and decided to join Bob at an antique show in two weeks.

References:

  1. Steptoe, A., Shankar, A., Demakakos, P., & Wardle, J. (2013). Social isolation, loneliness, and all-cause mortality in older men and women. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(15), 5797-5801.
  2. Seeman, T. E., & Crimmins, E. (2001). Social environment affects on health and aging. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 954, 88-117.
  3. Janicki, M.P. (1994). Policies and supports for older adults with mental retardation. In Seltzer, M. M., Krauss, M. W., & Janicki, M. P. (Eds.), Life Course Perspectives on Adulthood and Old Age. Washington, DC: American Association on Mental Retardation.