Spend Time with Others for Brain Health
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Spend Time with Others for Brain Health

           There has been a great deal of research done recently which has shed light on what has been called an “epidemic” of loneliness among seniors. The University of Michigan published a study which found that 25% of adults have reported feeling lonely. And you may not know this, but loneliness is in fact a health problem. Many experts have listed it among health concerns such as smoking or obesity in terms of causing negative health outcomes.

            Loneliness is, in particular, very bad for our brains, and raises the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. But just why is loneliness so bad for us?

            For starters, we miss out on a great deal of mental stimulation when we spend most of our time alone. The way our brains are wired makes interacting with others a necessity. Conversation is a complex activity, one that requires listening, thinking, making decisions, and interpreting the words and thoughts of others. This makes conversation one of the best brain exercises that there is.

            Loneliness is also incredibly damaging to the actual brain. Studies show that isolation damages the immune system, raises blood pressure, increases stress and depression, and can even hasten cellular aging. And it creates a negative feedback loop as well, as people who are isolated and feeling alone are less likely and less motivated to make lifestyle decisions that are good for brain health. Family and friends will urge each other to have regular checkups and exercise, and when eating alone, people are more likely to subsist on ready made foods that are processed and less nutritious than fresh, whole meals.

            Following from that last point, loneliness also promotes habits that cause damage in the brain. People who experience isolation and the sadness that results from it are more likely to engage in destructive habits, such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, or using dangerous drugs. Curiously, it also increases the sensation of pain, which can result in someone using more pain medication than they should.

            Staying connected socially can be harder as we age. Mobility and sensory issues can make it harder to get out of the house and meaningfully interact with people. Your kids might grow and move far away, and you may lose your spouse, siblings, and other close loved ones. Because of these issues, it is important to actively seek out social connections.

            If you can, try to spend time with family. You can babysit your grandkids or possibly great grandkids. Studies have shown that intergenerational contact is great for the health of the brain. Non-family social ties shouldn’t be neglected either. Call up your friends, maybe plan an afternoon in the park, or invite a neighbor in for coffee or tea.

            You can also go out of your way to seek interactions all day. Greet the people you see on the street, engage in chats with the clerks at the market or the coffee shop, even the briefest of interactions can be beneficial for the health of our brains.