By: Rikki Frischman, Preventionist
I remember as a young adult watching my grandmother, after my grandfather passed away, suffer from loneliness due to a lack of connection with people. Every time I would see her, she would talk to me about her day, memories she had when she was my age at the time (22), and overall things that made her happy in the present and past. During our conversations, I would watch that big smile come across her face and I knew I was doing the best for my grandmother. I knew how much she longed for social connection.
According to the National Library of Medicine, social connection is defined as “an overarching term that encompasses other commonly used terms describing structural, functional, and quality aspects of human relationships and interactions” (Donovan, Nancy J, and Dan Blazer, Dec. 2020). Seniors who experience social connection have a decreased risk of depression, cognitive decline, and mortality. It has a positive effect on senior citizens by helping them adapt to social situations and helping them remain “socially active” (Morgan, Tessa, Nov. 2019).
In a study done in New Zealand in 2019, seniors stated that the ability to communicate with others was essential to their social connectedness, despite having other disadvantages (e.g., loss of sight or hearing). According to the study, seniors experienced social connection when getting out of the house, and being able to identify feelings of connection and feelings of burden. Their level of social connections is “multi-leveled” (Morgan, Tessa, Nov. 2019) and reflects their relationships with family and friends, their neighborhood and community, and culture and society. Sadly, some participants experienced barriers in social connection because of racism, poverty, and inequalities. Access to public transportation, livable pensions, and access to community organizations are all fundamental to social connection.
When I think back to my grandmother, living in a nursing home, I think about the access she had to social connection (communications with staff, family members, and residents, and events provided by the nursing home). However, I also think of things she did not have access to (public transportation and easy access to the outside world). It is so important that senior citizens have opportunities to be provided with social connection, as it is essential to their quality of life and happiness. My hope is that one day more seniors can experience a high level of social connection, just as some of the people in the study experienced.
Morgan, Tessa, et al. “Social Connectedness: What Matters to Older People?: Ageing & Society.” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 18 Nov. 2019, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/ageing-and-society/article/social-connectedness-what-matters-to-older-people/E9ADAFE610F6401C6C1598C65EC429DF.
Donovan, Nancy J, and Dan Blazer. “Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Review and Commentary of a National Academies Report.” The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry: Official Journal of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc., Dec. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7437541/.