Kindred Spirits: Residents Reap Many Benefits from Social Interaction

October 01, 2020


By Terrie M. Roberts

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” – Albert Schweitzer

It is doubtful the German theologian/philosopher was referring to senior isolation that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 28 percent of people aged 65 and older face because they lived alone at the time of the census.

Nobody looks forward to aging without a spouse or family member at their side. While living alone does not inevitably lead to social isolation, it is a factor. Too, social contacts often decrease at this stage of life through retirement, death of family and friends, children moving away and reduced mobility.

With one of every seven Americans 65 years of age or older, social isolation and the risks thereof is an emerging issue.

Research shows isolation and feelings of loneliness can lead to serious health issues: high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, sleep difficulties, depression, a diminished immune response, cognitive decline and dementia and premature mortality, among others.

Therefore, staying socially connected and engaged becomes more important as we age, both for our mental and physical health.

Moving to a senior living community like The Oaks of Louisiana versus living in your home alone provides benefits too important to ignore.

“To stay or not stay in your home is a difficult decision for many aging seniors,” says Janice Latvala, manager of Savannah at The Oaks, an assisted living residence at The Oaks. “But we now know that people who live alone and don’t or can’t maintain connections with family and friends experience greater numbers of chronic and life-limiting health issues.”

“You must have relationships, not sit alone doing crossword puzzles or engaged in a hobby.”

While many resist the idea of moving to a senior living community for financial or other reasons, communities like The Oaks create opportunities for residents to engage and develop new friendships.

Socialization and friendship are key to happier, heathier senior adults. People who continue to maintain close friendships and find other ways to interact socially live longer than those who become isolated.

Opal Wimberly and Louise Choate moved to The Oaks seven years ago a couple of weeks apart. Both chose an apartment home at Garden Apartments at The Oaks, one of the community’s two independent living options.  Each was widowed and didn’t want the worry and burden of maintaining a home alone. Although they met as young brides in the late 40s and throughout their adult years socialized in the same circle of friends and for a time went to the same church, it wasn’t until they moved to The Oaks that the two became inseparable.

“People call us ‘Mutt and Jeff’ or ‘Thelma and Louise,” Wimberly quips. “Where you see one, you see the other. Our friendship has filled a void for me.”

“We have so much in common,” Choate adds. “I would not be as happy here if Opal was not here. We depend on each other. Our friendship was the Lord’s will.”

The two go to Bible study, discipleship, play croquet, attend various socials and music programs. They also walk in the evening along the walking trail around Lake Herman or sit outside and watch the hummingbirds.

It is the type of friendship that Wimberly and Choate have that Latvala says positively affects one’s social, emotional and physical well-being. It is a friendship Wimberly and Choate believe helps keep them active and independent.

Studies show strong friendships strengthen the immune system, help speed the recovery from illness, lower blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, sharpen memory and improve one’s outlook on life.

“When people socialize, form friendships and are happy, they release neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, which put them in a positive state,” Latvala says. “This, in turn, significantly impacts motivation, productivity and well-being, which improves emotional and physical health.”

The Oaks offers a wide range of programming each day that provides residents meaningful ways to make friends. From brain-boosting leisure activities to life enrichment programs, health and wellness programs to lectures and socials, an active social network awaits new residents.

“Without friendship, socialization and engagement with others, it is hard for senior adults to find purpose and passion in life,” Latvala says. “They tend to shut down emotionally, mentally and physically. It is easy to underestimate the impact friendship and socialization has on a senior’s life.”

Opal Wimberly and Louise Choate can attest to that.