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Social connections important for healthy aging, experts say

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We hear a lot about how critical diet and exercise are to living a long, healthy life.

A growing body of research shows social connectedness may matter just as much.

A recent National Council on Aging, UnitedHealthcare and USA Today survey found 40 percent of seniors say being close to friends and family is the most important aspect to a long life.

Scientists are beginning to understand more about the link between social isolation and early mortality.

One study by researchers at University College London followed 6,500 men and women over age 52 and assessed both their sense of loneliness and how much contact they had with friends and family over a period of about eight years, NPR News reports. 

They found that people who spent very little time with friends and family, or at social events, were more likely to die, regardless of income or health status.

“Both social isolation and loneliness appeared initially to be associated with a greater risk of dying," says Andrew Steptoe, a professor of psychology at University College London. "But it was really the isolation which was more important."

Isolation can increase seniors’ risk for depression. Isolation can even make older people more vulnerable to scams, Forbes reports.

Forbes say isolation and loneliness among seniors may begin with the the loss of a spouse. It may be compounded by physical decline such as loss of driving ability, decreased hearing or vision. Friends pass away. There are fewer opportunities for social engagement than in a younger day.

Managing My social connectedness as I age

Healthy aging tips from Mayo Clinic .

Some tips from Forbes for helping aging parents:

– Maintain frequent contact.

– Visit in person at regular intervals.

– Check out community resources for elders where your parent lives.

– Take your aging parent to events she may enjoy.

– For distance caregivers, consider hiring a geriatric care manager to check in on your aging parent at regular intervals.

–Consider teaching your elder to use technology to maintain connections.

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