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In our youth, most of us were eager to grow older. We can’t wait to get our driver’s license; graduate from high school, gain our independence and land our first job. As we get older, well the tables turn. We’ve all heard the saying, “getting older sucks” or that “there is no gold in the golden years.” Life can be challenging and so is growing older.
People sometimes ask me, “David, what’s the secret to aging well?” While no one can promise a magic pill or eternal life, there are certain things fundamental to healthy aging. One key is meaningful social engagement.
Apart from some common challenges like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure, there is growing evidence of the powerful negative effects of loneliness. Older adults who report feeling lonely are 45% more likely to die sooner and at 59% greater risk of health decline compared to their socially engaged counterparts. Simply put, loneliness is detrimental to our health, especially as we age.
Let’s take a moment to think about how the brain works. Though our brains are a complex neuronal biochemical soup, imagine for a minute it is a complex muscle trapped between our ears. Like any muscle, the more we exercise it, the stronger and healthier it becomes. In fact, as we age, we can retrain and rewire the parts, pathways and processes of our brains. We know that keeping our brains active is important. Interestingly the simple act of meaningful social engagement builds cognitive reserves. Just like forcing ourselves to exercise releases positive chemicals in our brains, so does forcing ourselves to engage socially in meaningful ways.
Millions of older adults live their lives void of meaningful social engagement. They’re lonely. The problem is so big, experts are declaring loneliness a bigger health epidemic than obesity.
So what can we do about it? Meaningful social engagement can positively reduce the negative effects of loneliness. In fact, meaningful social engagement offers more positive biochemical benefits for our aging brains than many novel drug interventions. Combined with other key aspects of healthy aging, meaningful social engagement can also prevent and protect our brains from some of the common challenges of aging.
Meaningful social engagement need not be difficult. Make it a goal to place yourself in social settings on a regular basis, especially as we age:
So never underestimate how detrimental loneliness is to our health, especially as we age. Meaningful social engagement is one of the most powerful ways to stave off, reduce and reverse the negative effects of loneliness.
By David Burke, CEO, Nxtgen Care
About David Burke:
David is committed to excellence and quality in senior care. He owns assisted living facilities and is CEO of Nxtgen Care – a smart business intelligence & data analytics platform measuring the meaningfulness of care in seniors care communities. David co-authored a manual for the treatment of late-life depression and anxiety and has been published in the Canadian Journal of Geriatrics.
From his daily challenges in managing long term care facilities, David dedicated to transforming care for the elderly. Convinced of the powerful positive effect of meaningful social engagement on the aging brain, David turned this vision into reality with the creation and launch of Nxtgen Care. David earned his Bachelors degree from Saint Mary’s University and a Masters Degree from the University of Toronto.