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How Social Connections Can Help Keep Your Brain Healthy as You Age

As you get older, it’s more important than ever to maintain your relationships with family, friends and people in your community. “With social relationships, you give and receive support, and those connections can help improve your emotional health,” said Pallavi Joshi, DO, a geriatric psychiatrist at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, AZ.

“Humans are social beings, and exercising social contact is good for the brain,” Dr. Joshi said. Cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, can harm your cognition (including learning and problem-solving skills, memory, as well as perception and decision making). Social interactions can lower your stress levels. Meeting new people also exposes you to new ideas and activities that give you more opportunities to learn and exercise your brain.

Research shows that good social connections can slow cognitive decline and help protect against depression and anxiety. And solid relationships improve your physical health, too. They can help you survive heart attacks and reduce your risk of dying prematurely by up to 50%.

In addition, if you have physical challenges or mobility issues, having someone who can assist you around the house and yard can help you stay independent and live in your home.

Where should you look for social connection?

You can benefit from a range of different social connections. “While the number of relationships is important, the quality or closeness is important too. Ideally, you want to balance close interpersonal relationships with activities that provide the opportunity to meet new people,” Dr. Joshi said.

You may find that your social connections are strong in some areas and could use some improvement in others. For example, you may have a solid relationship with a partner but no one to chat with about the books you’re reading.

“Different older people have different needs for social connections,” Dr. Joshi said. “You might be looking for support with everyday activities, to make new friends or find a partner, or to enjoy a shared hobby or activity.” Depending on your needs, you could connect with other people at:

  • Community centers for older adults
  • Social groups at religious centers
  • Online networks such as meetup.com that connect people who have shared interests, such as books, sports or arts

You may also want to deepen your existing relationships with friends or neighbors. And, as you get older and you set new personal goals and work toward achieving them, you may find new people entering your life.

How can younger people support the older people they care about?

If you want to help an older person build their social connections, ask what they need and how you can help. They may want you to spend more time with them yourself, drive them to meetings or events, or teach them how to use technology to connect with others.

The bottom line

Maintaining social connections is an important part of keeping your brain healthy as you age, so look for opportunities to connect with others. If you would like to explore ways to expand your social connections, Banner Health can help.

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