The importance of maintaining social interaction when ageing

It is not unusual for the numbers of people in our social circles to reduce as we get older.

We lose touch with distant friends over time, especially if we have moved home several times, but also, inevitably, people die and our social circle tends to focus more on family and perhaps those in our immediate neighbourhood.

Diminishing mobility can also restrict the ability to keep in touch with and spend time with friends.

However, psychologists believe that while there is a wide range of factors influencing good health in later years, they also highlight the fundamental importance of both social networks and social engagement.

Loneliness can decrease your confidence and affect the self-esteem.

Mental wellbeing is partly about the numbers of contacts we have but also about the emotional quality of those relationships.

There is some research evidence that there was a higher level of morale among older people who had diverse networks that included relationships with friends.

So, maintaining interaction with friends and relatives is important, but as income and mobility often reduce in older age, how can this be achieved?

Keeping fit and active can be combined with social interaction by joining fitness, yoga or rambling clubs, where the benefits are not only physical but there are opportunities to socialise with old – or new – friends. Hobby clubs, too, play a part and there are any number of local reading or writing, craft and art groups to join in many parts of the country.

Another option is to volunteer for organisations that need help and support. It is an excellent way to strengthen social bonds and meet others interested in similar activities or who share similar values.

It is important to try to have at least one interaction with another person each day, whether it is in person or on the phone. But this is where the development of computers and the internet can also help, whether using email or long-distance communication tools like Skype or Facebook.

Keeping a diary with dates of events or meetings is a good way of staying engaged and having something to look forward to.

Moving into a residential home, once it becomes necessary, does not mean complete isolation from existing friends and family, who can visit when they are able. Aveley Lodge also has a full programme of regular workshops covering many interests such as art sessions, singing and the like, but also maintains a network of relationships with the surrounding community so that there are regular visits from local school children and others to provide variety and stimulus to the residents.