Social Connectedness: A Key to Healthy Aging


Shah headshotKrupa Shah, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor
University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry

In an average day, Ms. Alvarez interacts with many people.  In the mornings, she frequently walks to a neighborhood café to have coffee with her best friend.  In the afternoons, she likes to go to the local senior center, where her favorite activities are water aerobics classes and playing bridge.  In the evenings, she often calls her daughter to chat, and likes to send emails and pictures to her grandchildren in college.  Ms. Alvarez’s daily life has a lot of social connectedness.

What is social connectedness?

  • A person’s level and quality of contact with other people

Why is social connectedness important?

  • It is key to healthy aging. Studies have shown that older people who have close connections and relationships not only live longer, but also cope better with health conditions and experience less depression. Life transitions can impact the number and quality of people’s social and community networks. For example, friends and family members may move away, which can have a negative impact on someone’s social network. But a transition such as the birth of a new family member can bring positive changes.

What are some of the life circumstances that can affect one’s social connectedness?

  • Changes in health and ability to walk and get around
  • Changes in work status and income
  • Changes in living arrangements
  • Loss of family and friends, particularly a spouse
  • Commuting challenges. When driving is no longer an option, isolation becomes a significant issue, especially in communities where there is little or no public transportation.

Below are some proactive steps you can take to prevent loneliness and stay connected.

  1. Join Community Activities. Think about activities you enjoy and look around your community for ways to get involved. Consider the local Y, a community center, or a local place of worship. 
  1. Volunteer. Not only will volunteering help your community, it is a great opportunity to meet new people. 
  1. Use Technology. Sometimes it’s not possible to have face-to-face contact with a friend. Get up to speed on technology because there are various ways to communicate and stay in touch with your loved ones. Share pictures through email or social media. Have a video conversation on your computer or by downloading an app on your smartphone! (Check out The Eldercare Locator’s brochure on Technology Options for Older Adults for more tech tips.)
  1. Take a Class. Learn to paint. Learn to cook. Take an educational or creative writing class. Keep an active mind, and who knows – you may find a new friend in class! Your new skills will improve your confidence, which helps social interaction to become more pleasurable. 
  1. Try Alternative Therapies. Consider being a pet owner. There are many adult animals looking for a new owner and walking a pet is a great way to meet people. Learn more about the benefits of massage and aromatherapy and then try it! 
  1. Consider Different Housing. It might make sense to weigh the pros and cons of moving to a different locale or different living arrangement where there may more opportunities to meet and socialize with others. 
  1. Be Active. Not only is physical activity vital in preventing falls, it is an amazing way to meet other people.

Cast a wide net and see what sticks. It usually takes some amount of effort, but the results can be priceless – healthy aging!