Monday, August 4, 2014

Social Engagement through the Life Span

Karen at 52 and Gladys at 104.  Twice my age! 
Last week I had the good fortune of attending a birthday party for my friend Gladys Bever. She turned 104 years old.

She is very kind to accept visits from me each Monday.  She talks about growing up near Marysville, California where her father had an orchard.  She helped at home, painted, played the piano and was a good student.

I enjoy seeing the world through her eyes. Not only does she have decades of experience, she's positive, dedicated to her faith and intelligent. She has great eyesight still and reads about three books a week.

Birthday greetings for Gladys
Gladys is a resident of the Kansas Masonic Home here in Wichita.  I have been volunteering at KMH since October of 2010.  Gladys moved in sometimes around 2011.

I have observed that she is surrounded by people who care for her. Also, her family calls, writes, sends gifts and visits frequently.

Gladys shares a room with Relna, who is younger at 100 years old.  They are both a little hard of hearing, so conversation is difficult, but they show respect and consideration for each other.

There are CNAs, nurses, physical therapists, activity directors, food services staff and others who not only provide services but who seek her out for additional conversation.  She strengthens others because of here strong character and interest in others' well being.

Being socially engaged is important for people of all ages.

I frequently encounter research in support of this.  I like this guest editorial for an issue on social engagement in a scholarly journal because this short passage (below) is current, it's not filled with too much jargon, it separates out findings about dementia outcomes, and it reinforces what I've read again and again:
"People are good for your brain.
Decades of research have shown that individuals who have a larger number of people in their social network or higher quality of ties with individuals within their network have lower rates of morbidity [illness] and mortality [death] across a wide range of health outcomes.  
Among these outcomes, cognitive function, especially in the context of brain aging, has been one area of particular interest with regard to social engagement, or more broadly, socially integrated lifestyles.
Many studies have observed an association between the size of a person's social network or levels of social engagement and the risk for cognitive decline or dementia (e.g. see review by Fratiglioni et al, 2004). 
The dementia risk reduction associated with a larger social network or social engagement shown by some epidemiological studies is fairly large. The population effect size of increasing social engagement on delaying dementia disease progression could exceed that of current FDA approved medications for Alzheimer's disease."
[Edited the original to include more line breaks.]
Citation:  Hiroko H. Dodge, Oscar Ybarra and Jeffrey A. Kaye (2014). Tools for advancing research into social networks and cognitive function in older adults . International Psychogeriatrics, 26, pp 533-539. doi:10.1017/S1041610213001750.  

In plainer language, the above quote means that we should foster healthy relationships with friends, family members and other members of our community so that we can be happier, healthier and live longer lives with an improved quality of life.

I have a friend named Debbie aka @cranberryfries* who frequently makes statements that boil down to this idea: "It's just nicer to be nice and happier to be happy." Debbie has a very rich and healthy social network. I hope to improve the quality and quantity of my social network--and to be a better support to others.

On the occasion of her birthday, I am particularly grateful for my friend Gladys because she serves as such a great example to me.

Happy Birthday, Gladys!

* Yes, Debbie is a fellow blogger, but I knew her in the 1970s before the Internet was a "thing." I used to babysit her and her older sisters, and we attended the same congregation of the Mormon/LDS church. She is one of the most joyful people I know.


Centenarians on the Rise


  1. We can learn a lot from our elders. I love talking to my 98-year-old mother in law and hearing about the old days and the long-gone relatives, and the occasional straight-to-the-point bit of common sense.

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