Making friends was so simple when we were in elementary school. Sometimes all we needed to form a lasting bond was carrying the same Mickey Mouse lunchbox. Throughout school, into college and through the workplace, we were able to easily form friendships. After we had children, the parents of their friends became our friends, through sports teams, dance classes or school clubs.

Now, forming friendships when our grown children leave home and we are retired can be nearly impossible. This happens just at the time of life when socializing isn’t just a pleasant way to pass the time; it’s now vital to our continued health and wellbeing.

Having friends improves our mental health.
Humans are social animals, and studies prove our mental health improves when we are in group settings. As we age, we become more isolated, especially when driving becomes difficult. Isolation, and the loneliness that follows, deeply affect seniors, snowballing into serious mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

When seniors regularly engage with friends in active social settings, they have fewer negative feelings. Mood and overall mental well-being improve. Self-esteem and self-confidence grow as we feel valued by our friends. Research shows that seniors who engage with peer friendships outside of family relationships have a more positive outlook about life.

Friendships lowers our risk of chronic disease.
Without socialization, we tend to live a sedentary lifestyle, watching a lot of television or spending time on the computer. Lack of activity leads to weight gain, poor cardiovascular health, deteriorating muscle and joints and declining mobility.

When we engage in friendships, we are more likely to move. Friends will meet for coffee, go for a walk, dance, play games, or take a fitness class together. All this activity helps control our weight, relieves hypertension, lowers our chances of stroke and heart disease, builds strength and balance, and improves how our body uses insulin and glucose. We are also much more likely to laugh when we are with friends. Laughter reduces stress, which in turn lowers blood pressure.

Socialization strengthens our memory and cognitive health.
Not just our body is more active when we socialize. Our mind is more active too. In a 12-year study, data showed that cognitive abilities declined 20% faster in people who reported being lonely. Isolation increases the risk of dementia by as much as 50%, and also increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

When we socialize with friends and meet new people in groups, our minds stay active to remember names and faces, stories, game rules and so much more. Research shows that social seniors have stronger memories, better communication skills, sharper cognition, increased empathy and a decreased risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

Friendships and social engagement in our senior years benefit our health and well-being in so many ways. In fact, a 2023 US Surgeon General’s report compares the health effects of being lonely to smoking 15 cigarettes each day.

When you make your home in a senior living community, you’ll benefit from the positive aspects of friendship and socialization. Cognitive functioning and memory will improve. The risk for chronic disease will decrease and mental health and wellbeing will flourish. The social life at a senior living community gives residents a sense of belonging and purpose, a more positive outlook and a better quality of life – even if they don’t have a Mickey Mouse lunchbox.