Here’s a piece about a growing problem plaguing elderly men in industrialized countries, which leads to poor physical and mental outcomes. According to recent reports from the British charity Help the Aged, the number of males over-60 living alone in Great Britain has hit the one million mark, with half of them reporting feelings of loneliness and isolation. And I’m sure the Brits aren’t the only ones with this problem.
Human beings are social animals and we need rich social circles to thrive as living organisms. The importance of social connectedness to physical and mental health is fairly well known. The phenomenon as it relates to physical health has been studied by researchers at the University of Chicago, and I’ve reported on many of the mental benefits to a rich social life here in this blog. Social connectedness improves memory and prevents dementia, and improves surgical outcomes. People who retain strong social ties just report doing better overall.
That’s why I find this story so interesting: Large numbers of men are socially isolated. Men, as they age, have a hard time fitting in and participating in social groups. This is not true of women, however, who tend to feel more comfortable in social situations. Interestingly, in Britain at least, most social organizations for the elderly are female oriented, making it even harder for the men to find groups or situations that they feel comfortable in.
I think this is something we should all think about, as the marvels of modern medicine and the desire to stay healthy are keeping people living longer than ever before. Whether a spouse dies or whether divorced, aging men and women need opportunities to be social. But another important point is that it really brings home how crucial it is to take care of your health as if it’s your most valuable asset. Because at the end of the day, it really is. Think about it: who has the greater opportunity for a rich social life–the person who can barely walk, has trouble breathing and is racked with pain, or the person who is physically fit, vibrant and full of life? Uh, dunno…what do you think? And who has time for social activities anyway, when one’s day is filled with doctor’s appointments (I personally know several older folk who live this life)? And who has the constitution to partake in social activities when they’re hopped up on twenty, thirty different meds (I’ve had a number of elderly patients bring me their medication lists which easily add to these numbers)? Don’t get caught in the mind trap of believing that aging equals deterioration and isolation–it doesn’t.
Take care of your precious health today. God forbid, you find yourself alone in the near future. But if you do, keep your social life active. You’ll feel better. You’ll look better. And you’ll be better–all around–in body, mind, and spirit.