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Being part of a group may be good for senior health

December 11, 2012

Social interaction is a key part of overall health at any age, and new research hints that it may be especially important for older adults. The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, found that group interaction can improve the well-being of seniors.

The research was focused on so-called "water clubs" at nursing homes in the U.K. Each group was created to encourage residents to stay hydrated, but the team discovered that the participants enjoyed benefits outside of those offered by the water. They found that seniors in water clubs reported improved well-being and fewer falls compared to those who drank water by themselves.

"We refer to this as 'the social cure,'" study collaborator Professor Catherine Haslam said, "And it is far more potent than many of the other treatments that are out there. Whether we are talking about stress, depression, or recovery from stroke, a supportive group life plays a critical role in a person's clinical path."

While the findings relate to patients in a nursing home, they are likely to apply to seniors in all settings, whether it is an assisted living facility or retirement community. They also echo previous research that suggests social interaction is a cornerstone of healthy aging. Most recently, a study from the University of California, San Francisco found that seniors who reported feelings of loneliness were more likely to have declining health or die in a period of six years.

The research, which focused on more than 1,600 people over 60, found that 23 percent of the participants who reported being lonely died during the course of the study. For those who were not lonely, the rate was about 14 percent.

Taken together, the two studies highlight how crucial it is for seniors to stay socially engaged, whether it's through continuing education or joining a local sports team for seniors.