As a Baby Boomer looking toward retirement, you do a lot to stay connected. You spend as much time with family as you can. You have a local social circle, friends at the gym, associates at work with whom you are close.
You’ve got a wider circle too: Friends from years past who stay connected via social media.
Staying connected offers an outlet for creativity and a chance to enjoy the simple pleasures of social interaction. What many don’t know is that these same connections can add years to your life.
To understand how social ties encourage health in seniors, it helps to look at the flip side. What happens when seniors live in isolation?
Seniors who feel lonely report having poor physical health, according to the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, which found that health risks associated with social isolation are on a par with the well-known dangers of smoking cigarettes and obesity.
A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences likewise discovered a higher risk of mortality in adults aged 52 and older. Isolation has also been linked to hastened cognitive decline in seniors.
While social isolation can be remedied through conventional means—lunch dates, phone calls and the like—it’s also true that today’s technologies can do much to help seniors stay connected.
Some senior communities have adopted portal technologies to simplify social interactions among their residents. You can share common applications such as video calling, social media and chat in a user-friendly interface. Such tools make it easier to connect with loved ones while also staying plugged in to activities going on inside one’s own community.
Texting seems like a young person’s game: Tiny screen, nimble thumb action, lots of acronyms (lol?) and cryptic sideways smiley faces like this one ;~/ but the fact is, texting can be a valuable ally in your effort to stay connected. If you use a tablet instead of a phone, you overcome the problem of small screen size and you get buttons that are easier to press.
Another great option for older adults who want to be able to text message but find today’s phones and messaging devices difficult to navigate is text-to-speech software. This software, which can read out the contents of a text message - or even an email or website page - to the user, can be used on a phone, tablet, or even a computer - wherever text lives that may be too small or too difficult to read. Many tools, like Apple’s accessibility tools and Google’s text-to-speech app for Android, are already available for free.
Better health tips the odds in favor of staying connected. It’s easier to socialize when you are out and about. To that end, today’s passive monitoring systems can be an asset. Such systems may provide instant alerts of falls, while also notifying staff when signs emerge of such negative health events as stroke, heart disease and urinary tract infections (UTIs). For those looking to stay connected, technologies that supports health can have a direct impact on improving not just social ties, but also the long-term physical wellness that comes with avoiding loneliness.
Loneliness is not just an emotional state. Studies have shown that isolation creates a real risk to seniors’ health and physical well-being. Technologies such as those described above go a long way toward ensuring that seniors are able to live a full and rich life.