Could Facebook hold the key to healthy aging? Maybe! Experts say that staying active and social can enhance your life as you get older and help stave off conditions such as dementia and depression.
There are many things you can do to stay vital and healthy as you get older — such as exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet — but experts now believe that one of the best ways to age gracefully is to engage in a little social networking, both online and off.
As we age, normal changes in the brain can make it more difficult to learn new information or remember things. For those with dementia, this intellectual impairment becomes so severe that it interferes with their lives. Sometimes cognitive decline cannot be avoided, but in some cases, keeping your mind stimulated or interacting with your peers may help ward off dementia and depression, another common senior health concern.
One recent study from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago found that highly social seniors had a 70 percent lower rate of cognitive decline than their less social peers. Another study, by researchers at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, discovered that Internet use was associated with a 30 percent decrease in depressive symptoms.
There are many ways to stay socially connected and intellectually stimulated:
- Nurture your social network. Make an effort to maintain your close personal relationships with family members, friends, church members, neighbors, etc. Even if they’re not close by, you can keep in touch by e-mail or Facebook. According to data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, the 74-plus demographic is the fastest-growing group across Web-based social networks. Use of sites like Facebook and Twitter among Internet users 65 and older grew 100 percent between 2009 and 2010, from 13 percent to 26 percent. Many assisted living centers have even begun offering technology classes to get seniors online and in the social-networking loop.
- Play “mind” games. Regularly doing crossword puzzles, playing chess and other intellectually stimulating games keeps your mind active and, if you play with others, helps you stay socially connected. Scientists believe that both your body and your mind follow the principle “use it or lose it.” So think of these games as fun ways to exercise your brain.
- Join a club. Contact your local senior center and ask around to see if there are any clubs in your area you would be interested in becoming a part of. Attending regular book club, garden club, or art club meetings is a great way to meet new people and establish rewarding relationships with people who have similar interests.
- Volunteer in your community. If you want to have a feeling of purpose or contribute to a greater cause, find a way to volunteer in your community. You can find out more about volunteer opportunities through organizations like Senior Corps, a government-run organization that connects seniors with local and national organizations in need of volunteers. Recent studies show that older individuals who volunteer have a reduced risk of death compared to their counterparts who do not.
- Offer family assistance. If you have grandchildren or other young family members you would like to see more of, offer to babysit regularly. Chasing around after children is a great way to keep you physically active and improve your sense of well-being.
It’s not uncommon for older people to become socially and intellectually withdrawn. But if you make an effort to stay engaged as you get older, you will find more joy and satisfaction in life — and there is a good chance you will stay healthier as you age.