Social Atmosphere in Senior Living May Help Seniors Maintain Good Health

Julia Little  |  July 2, 2012

Seniors move to senior living communities for a variety of reasons, and a recent study shows it might be a good option for any older adult because of the social atmosphere it provides. A study from the University of California, San Francisco, found that seniors who feel isolated or have a lack companionship are more likely to experience a decline in their health.

The study looked at 1,604 seniors, administering a survey that measured loneliness. Over the course of six years, the researchers measured the seniors' health, and found that 22.8 percent of those who reported feelings of loneliness or sadness had passed away during that time, while only 14 percent of the socially content seniors passed. The results were similar when researchers measured the participants' abilities to perform activities of daily living and other factors of cognitive decline.

Researchers said they were not surprised by the results, and believe that the biological stress of loneliness may be to blame.

"I have a patient who's losing weight, and point blank, she says to me, 'I'm losing weight because eating is a social experience for me and now I'm eating alone and it's not enjoyable,'" study author Dr. Carla Perissinotto said. “That's a huge part of why she's declining."

Many senior communities keep residents involved in social activities that keep them physically well off, but these social settings may also keep their minds sharp - lively conversation is likely when seniors share a meal with others. This type of social interaction has been linked to good cognitive health in a number of studies.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports the study also shows how seniors who are lonely may focus more on their discomforts, whereas an active social life can distract from them.

"They start focusing on things that they can't do, and they focus on pain," Dr. Marci Teresi, medical director of the memory clinic at Kaiser Santa Clara, told the news outlet. "That just perpetuates their decline. I've had people tell me they feel like they're sort of done with life."

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