Huxhold, Miche and Schuz (2013) conducted a study on the on the importance of informal social settings in the old age. The study has exceptionally useful findings. In their longitudinal study that targeted middle-aged and older adults, these authors assessed the age-deferential effects of having family or friends in the old age. The study showed that social associations have an impact on the well-being of old people. The type of social association (with family or friends) determines whether the impact is positive or negative. Huxhold, Miche and Schuz (2013) examined the impact of having close friends and/or family in the old age on life satisfaction, negative affect (NA) and positive affect (PA). This study revealed that in the old age, family associations have both positive affect and negative affect, and no effect on life satisfaction. On the other hand, an association with friends leads to increased PA and life satisfaction, and decreased NA. The findings of this study form the basis of this paper. This study has shown that social associations influence the well-being (health) of people including the old. In addition, social associations change with age. Most importantly, an association with friends leads to improved life satisfaction and PA in the old age than an association with family. This paper assesses the importance of social associations or activities on the mental and physical well-being of old people.
The Benefits of Social Connectedness
Cohen and Janicki-Deverts (2009) contend that people with many social connections have better health outcomes than their less socially connected counterparts. More socially connected people have less cognitive decline with aging and better prognoses when they encounter chronic life-threatening conditions, greater resistance to infectious diseases and they tend to live longer (Cohen & Janicki-Deverts, 2009). In the past three decades, different studies have evaluated the role of the social environment in disease etiology and the maintenance of health. Prospective community studies have revealed that people with more social relationships live longer than their less connected peers. For instance, those who are married, belong to social or political groups, and have close friends, family members and neighbors live longer (Shyu et al., 2006).
In addition, more socially integrated people have cognitive superiority even in the old age, less dementia, as well as solid resistance to upper respiratory infections (Shyu et al., 2006). Both community and longitidunal studies have revealed these benefits (Shyu et al., 2006). For instance, longitudinal prospective studies have shown that individuals with the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases but have many social connections tend to have less arterial calcification. In addition, they are less likely to develop a stroke than those with limited social connections (Bennett et al, 2006). Other studies have attributed the low reoccurrence of cancer to greater social connectedness (Bennett et al, 2006). Social integration studies have also revealed the same findings.
Mechanisms through Social Connections Improve Health
The association between better health outcomes and social connections is driven by two processes (Crooks et al., 2008). The first process is accounted for by isolation vs. a decreased number of social contacts. The other process is accounted for by diversity in social connectedness. Social integration is another mechanism that has been attributed to the association between social relationships and physical health. When a person has someone they look-up to for help or someone who can take care of them, they are less likely to succumb to the pathogenic effects of life stress (Crooks et al., 2008).
There is a perceived emotional immunity to life stresses; there is also perceived support that also offers immunity against the mortality or morbidity associated with stresses of life (Beland et al., 2005). Perceived support delays the progression of chronic illnesses. In essence, the perceived protective effect minimizes the stress of having a life-threating disease. Conversely, the negative aspects of social relationships can be accounted for by social losses, loneliness and negative interactions (Beland et al., 2005). These factors contribute to the negative health effects associated with decreased social connections. For example, the loss of close associates through death or divorce heightens the morbidity and mobility of reduced social connections. Conflicts with close associates, as well as feelings of loneliness are linked to poor health outcomes such as cardiovascular diseases (Beland et al., 2005).
The Impact of Social Connections on Physical and Cognitive (Mental) effects: Focus on the old age.
Eisele et al. (2012) contend that social support has a positive influence on the mortality and cognition in the old age. These authors conducted a longitudinal study that sought to assess the influence of perceived emotional component of social support on the mortality and cognition of old age in Germany. In that study, the researchers had a sample size of 2367; participants were assessed for eighteen months. Eisele et al. (2012) noted that in the eighteen-month period, there was no association between improved cognition and reduced mortality with perceived social support.
However, they noted that previous studies that were conducted over a longer period of time indicated that there is a positive correlation between perceived social support and cognition and mortality in the old age (Eisele et al., 2012). When people age, changes in the brain trigger changes in cognition. The speed of processing information and long-term memory tend to diminish. In line with this, researches on mental stimulation and cognitive aging have become vibrant. Engagements in behavior that stimulates the mind have been found to have a positive effect on the cognition of old people (Eisele et al., 2012). Social activities and activities that enhance intellectual capacity are the most significant contributors to positive cognition. In another study, it has been found that daily cognition stimulation can help buffer the mind from mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease (Eisele et al., 2012).
A longitudinal study conducted in Seattle assessed the cognitive functions of the elderly and how such cognition can be improved through social connections (Ertel, Glymour & Berkman, 2008). In that study, it was found that in most aging people, cognition capability declines (Ertel, Glymour & Berkman, 2008). However, those that have sufficient social connections tend to have better cognition capabilities. In other words, social connections tend to reduce cognition declines in the old age. In addition, the experts of the National Institute of Health in the aging, neurological and mental health departments have added their voices. They have found that healthy brain aging is influenced by social, educational, biological and demographic determinists (Ertel, Glymour & Berkman, 2008). It has been shown that the impact of social connectedness overrides the other factors thus emphasizing the significance of this factor. An epidemiological study involving 2000 participants and basing on social involvement on their well-being provided significant findings (Ertel, Glymour & Berkman, 2008). It was shown that the elderly with high social activities boosted their life expectancy by thirteen years.
Another important statistic that was reported indicated that cognitive potential also improved following involvement in social activities (Ertel, Glymour & Berkman, 2008). In addition, it has been noted that trajectories on social relations and cognition have to be conducted for a long period if any positive association has to be realized. In fact, studies that have registered a positive association between these two factors ranged from 5-7 years. Improved social integration, engagement with family and strong ties with friends improve cognitive function in the old age (Ertel, Glymour & Berkman, 2008).
In summary, this paper was based on the findings reported by Huxhold, Miche and Schuz (2013). These authors found that social associations influence the well-being (health) of people including the old. In addition, social associations change with age. An association with friends leads to improved life satisfaction and PA in the old age than an association with family. Different studies in this paper have shown that people with many social connections have better health outcomes than their less socially connected counterparts. More socially connected people have less cognitive decline with aging and better prognoses when they encounter chronic life-threatening conditions, greater resistance to infectious diseases and they tend to live longer. In short, this paper has found that improved social connectedness boosts cognitive activity and physical health in the old age. However, there are some areas that need additional research. Data on the mechanism through which improved social connectedness improves cognition and physical health in the old age are still limited. In addition, in order to establish a connection between the two factors (social integration and well-being), prospective community, social integration and longitudinal studies must be conducted for a long period (over five years). Studies that are conducted for a short period (less than two years) do not provide substantial connections.
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