People are living longer. As a result, there’s an increasing interest in understanding and promoting successful aging. There are volumes filled with advice on how to keep the body and brain in optimal shape as the years roll by. Some aging experts say the answer is to get plenty of exercise. Others tout a healthy diet. Still others say a positive attitude is key. And then there are those who say it’s just plain old good luck.
At The Carrington at Lincolnwood, we’re rather partial to an idea posed by Louis Cozolino, professor of psychology at Pepperdine University, in his book Timeless: Nature’s Formula for Health and Longevity. “Of all the experiences we need to survive and thrive,” he writes, “it is the experience of relating to others that is the most meaningful and important. A lifestyle that maximizes social interaction and human-to-human contact is good for the brain at every stage, particularly for the aging brain.”
Meaningful human relationships. Makes sense, doesn’t it? In fact, research suggests that the people we surround ourselves with have a big impact on our psychological and physical health. Relationships allow us to interact socially, and additional research shows the support we receive can decrease risks of heart attacks, decline in cognition, depression and anxiety. One study found that people with good social relationships have a 50% lower rate of mortality than those with poor social interactions.
With evidence that social relationships play a key role in maintaining health as you age, let’s take a look at how The Carrington accomplishes its goal of promoting meaningful relationships and well-being for all residents. A video produced with residents Phil and Pat O’Donnell will help you understand The Carrington’s culture of boundless engagement.
Meaningful relationships provide the opportunity for three key benefits: exchange of support, social engagement and sense of worth—all major pillars for a foundation of healthy aging.
An Exchange Of Support—Give & Take
Your social network forms the platform for valuable personal support and opportunities for social interaction. Having someone to talk to, have lunch with or laugh together over a funny story does wonders for your sense of belonging. The O’Donnells will be the first to concur. “The day my husband, Phil, and I came (to The Carrington) there were only 13 of us. I believe this group set the pace for friendliness and welcoming for all who have come since. Now in 2020, we are a family of over 170 in independent living. The friendliness remains, which makes it wonderful for all newcomers.” On The Carrington’s Facebook page, you can read more about the positive social networks that have formed within the community and how the residents truly bond together over like interests and activities.
As an older adult, perhaps your family, spouse and adult children are your central source of support. But, as you may be finding, children and grandchildren get older and other interests divert their attention elsewhere. As you age right along with them, it will be increasingly important to expand your social network—your lifeline of personal support. Findings show that social support from others can increase your feelings of independence and self-esteem, and lower levels of depression and loneliness that may creep up.
As you draw positive experiences from your social relationships, you’ll also find they offer the opportunity to provide support to others. This feeds your well-being, too, as you benefit from increased feelings of usefulness. Seniors who report giving support to others within their social network are more likely to receive support, greater feelings of self-efficacy, and higher levels of self-esteem.
Compassion and concern for others may protect against feelings of meaninglessness, too. “If you’re feeling lonely, go out and do something for somebody else,” one senior shared with us. Even making brief connections with relative strangers—acknowledging their presence, wishing them a good day, giving a compliment—can be a source both of meaning and happiness. Listening to someone with an open mind, reaching out to someone who may be lonely, or sending a card can provide good cheer to someone who’s down in the dumps.
Social Engagement—Learning & Laughter
Did you ever stop and think how much you can learn from your friends—your social network? Just like you, they have a life story to tell. Take advantage of it—let them into your life. Chances are they’ve logged a few miles filled with exciting experiences, interesting acquaintances, fascinating travels, unusual hobbies, remarkable accomplishments, noteworthy previous occupations, and life goals yet to be achieved. Who knows, maybe together you can check a few items off your Bucket Lists.
Become a good listener, as well as a good friend, sharing with each other and setting new challenges to meet and learn from in the days ahead. Listening to someone else’s point of view allows you to look at life from different perspectives, some of which you may not have thought of before.
You’re never too old to learn and grow—and you may even find yourself picking up a few new healthier behaviors from your expanding social network. “Joe always exercises at least 30 minutes a day, and now I make sure to take daily walks too “Jane taught me how important it is to eat three square meals—I’ve never felt better!”
Research shows that as age increases, a person’s social network decreases. However, even though older adults may have smaller social circles, their relationships tend to be of higher quality. Evidence suggests that, generally, the more varied your social network, the happier and healthier you will be. Intimate friends are very important for older adults. Social dining—even family-style meals—are great for promoting connectivity and battling social isolation, which can easily descend upon you as you age. As you’ll see in Marv’s video, dining at The Carrington presents the perfect opportunity for learning and laughter among friends.
What happens to social engagement when a community like The Carrington is confronted with a nationwide pandemic? Let’s face it—we’re all in a pause of unbelievable proportions thanks to COVID-19. At The Carrington, both creativity and fortitude have kicked into gear. A visit to The Carrington’s Facebook page tells a marvelous story of how The Carrington staff and residents are still focusing on their social connections during this time.
The Carrington staff is making sure all residents know how to connect with friends and family via the Internet or Smartphone, and, like elsewhere in the country, an entire culture of active ZOOMers has developed. Birthdays come and go, but not without some form of celebratory serenade. Religious celebrations in April—Holy Week and Passover—were observed on television, online and with special courtyard ceremonies—at a distance, of course. Online field trips to museums and national parks, in-room exercise programs and videos online are providing entertainment, learning, music and art appreciation, and physical and intellectual stimulation. Individual private time is still cherished, and many residents are catching up on reading. Social networks are functioning at full capacity at The Carrington—just at an appropriate distance!
A Sense Of Worth—Control & Confidence
Finally, meaningful social relationships later in life strengthen feelings of control and confidence. Keep all these benefits in mind as you develop a clear understanding of the importance of social relationships as an older adult, as well as the ways your social network promotes successful aging and health later in life.
Loss of control in decision-making can create a good deal of stress as you age. But it’s worth remembering that friendships are the relationships you choose and may allow for greater feelings of autonomy—leading to broader social networks, especially within a senior living community. So, as you cultivate and expand your social network, it stands to reason that you’re also cultivating healthier levels of self-esteem, leading to greater independence and feelings of happiness and well-being.
The professional staff at The Carrington has been trained to promote the development of meaningful social relationships and activity throughout the community. They are “tuned-in” and are constantly looking for ways to nurture meaningful friendships among residents. They encourage storytelling, sharing experiences, and lots of laughter, of course. They expect the residents to take an active role in planning and scheduling the activities and events THEY want to participate in. They also understand life’s natural transitions and are absolutely the best resources for handling them in a healthy, compassionate way.
Your Next Step . . .
During these days of “Stay-in-Place,” we invite you to experience The Carrington virtually. Join us for a video tour and a face-to-face virtual conference by calling us at 847-744-9469 or by completing the online form.