One concern some older adults express about moving to a senior community is the fear of leaving their friends and neighbors behind. No one wants to be lonely, even those individuals who enjoy spending time alone. However, many seniors today live alone, and many don’t even know their neighbors. They may actually find stronger social connections in a community designed for seniors like them.
Research shows, time and again, that strong social connections confer a range of benefits. When selecting an independent living or other senior community, it’s important to look for one that is truly a community.
The Science of Social Connection
A groundbreaking study published in 1992 sparked worldwide conversation about the effects of living in a close-knit community. The researchers followed the residents of a small town, Roseto, Pennsylvania, for 50 years. Over that time residents of Roseto experienced significantly lower levels of stress and heart disease than the average population. Researchers attributed these physical and mental health benefits to the spirit of cooperation and community in the town, calling it “The Roseto Effect.”
Many other studies have followed in the footsteps of the Roseto study. For example, research published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health in 2014 tracked the cardiovascular health of 5,000 seniors with no known heart problems over four years. The researchers asked the seniors to self-evaluate:
- How much they felt a part of their neighborhood
- If they had neighbors who would help them
- Whether they trusted people in the area
- If their neighbors were friendly
Over the course of the study, those who ranked these factors lower were more likely to have a heart attack.
A study by researchers at the University of Minnesota and Rush University, published in 2011, found similar results in seniors in three Chicago neighborhoods. Greater neighborhood “cohesion,” as they termed it, was correlated with lower incidence of stroke.
The Importance of Social Connection for Seniors
These effects of social connection benefit anyone, but seniors especially. The CDC calls loneliness and isolation in seniors a “serious public health risk.” They say that isolation can harm a senior’s health in the following ways:
- Significantly increased risk of premature death from all causes
- A 50% percent increased risk of dementia
- A 29% increased risk of heart disease
- A 32% increased risk of stroke
- Increased risk for depression and anxiety
John Moore, DO, an Aetna medical director and senior health specialist, says he sees “a marked difference in the health outcomes of older patients who were socially active compared to those who weren’t.”
Moving to Senior Living Can Reduce Loneliness
Some seniors live safely and happily in their own homes throughout their lives. However, limited physical mobility, lack of the ability to drive, having family who lives far away, or not having friendly neighbors can all contribute to isolation. The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light just how challenging it can be for some senior individuals and couples to maintain their social connections.
An independent living community brings seniors together in one place. They can easily find other people with similar backgrounds and life experiences. Activities and dining options create a natural opportunity for them to get to know each other. A friendly, highly qualified staff adds another form of social support as well as safety and healthcare support. The ability to transition to assisted living or memory care smoothly can minimize disruptions like the need to say good-bye to friends made through independent living.
What Does a Tight-Knit Senior Community Look Like?
There’s no objective definition for what qualifies as “tight-knit.” We know it when we experience it. At Aviva Senior Living, each resident might have their own way of describing the social bonds they find here. But here are a few examples.
Tight-knit is when residents form strong, long-lasting friendships through shared activities and interests. It’s a senior who knows she always has someone to talk to if she’s feeling down — whether that’s her neighbor or a member of the staff. It’s the executive leaders of the organization strolling the grounds, greeting individual residents by name. It’s when someone joins the board of directors because their late parent spent their final years living happily here and they want to give back. Aviva even has a resident board, who took the initiative to create a phone tree to ensure that every resident on campus gets periodic phone calls just to see how they’re doing.
At Aviva we strive to always foster a strong sense of connectedness and meaning. If this kind of community sounds right for you or your loved one, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.