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Living Long & Well in the 21st Century: Strategic Directions for Research on Aging

Research Suggests a Positive Correlation between Social Interaction and Health

Several research studies have shown a strong correlation between social interaction and health and well-being among older adults and have suggested that social isolation may have significant adverse effects for older adults. For example, study results indicate that:

  • Social relationships are consistently associated with biomarkers of health.
  • Positive indicators of social well-being may be associated with lower levels of interleukin-6 in otherwise healthy people. Interleukin-6 is an inflammatory factor implicated in age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer.
  • Some grandparents feel that caring for their grandchildren makes them healthier and more active. They experience a strong emotional bond and often lead a more active lifestyle, eat healthier meals, and may even reduce or stop smoking.
  • Social isolation constitutes a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality, especially in older adults.
  • Loneliness may have a physical as well as an emotional impact. For example, people who are lonely frequently have elevated systolic blood pressure.
  • Loneliness is a unique risk factor for symptoms of depression, and loneliness and depression have a synergistic adverse effect on well-being in middle-aged and older adults.

More research is needed to understand the actual links to positive health and determine the importance of social interactions as they relate to disability, falls, memory, and overall health benefits for older adults.