Social capital is a concept that has become increasingly well known in the last few years. The word was first used in a book published as far back as 1916, but the ideas surrounding the term continue to evolve. Social capital refers to the net-worth of a person on a social level, their ability to connect with society and form ties through participation as well as friendship. Social ties often do relate to financial security, but social capital as an idea has nothing to do with monetary capital. A job is a form of social capital not because of the salary, but because it creates a sense of belonging through common experiences shared among a group of coworkers. A network of friends is also a form of social capital, as is charity or volunteer work, a hobby or a group project.
Social capital doesn’t just refer to individuals. A neighborhood can be described as having high social capital based on the interconnectedness and mutual resource sharing that takes place among its residents. Friendly, small town environments, where neighbors know each other by name and frequently ask each other for small favors, are places with high social capital. By contrast, an impersonal environment, where each member of the community feels isolated and fears to interact with the others, has much lower social capital.
Social Capital Across a Lifetime
Social capital can look quite different in different stages of life. With children, parental guidance is very important. For teenagers, it’s usually about a circle of friends in school, although some teenagers also have jobs or projects in which they are involved. For young adults, professional connections begin to have much more importance. At some point, close family ties are formed and, for many people who have children, the friendships and interests of their children become more important than their own.
Social capital builds across a lifetime. By and large our entire support network of friends, relatives and acquaintances continues to expand throughout middle age. We may see old buddies less often, or lose touch with some old coworkers, but there are always new people at a new job. As we age, however, this can often change. Many people look forward to retirement for years, but once it comes, it can lead to a reduction in social ties. We might not especially want to see our coworkers every morning, but, without that daily interaction, life can seem empty. As time passes, old friends die or become disabled and difficult to visit. Children have often become busy with their own lives. Seniors who are widowed may miss the daily interaction of a loved partner.
Social Interaction Among Seniors
This reduction in social interaction has been seen to have a negative effect on seniors. Elderly people who become isolated as they age have reduced cognition, higher rates of depression and are less likely to maintain their physical mobility. They have lower self worth and often fail to schedule the tests and treatments they need. As well as the obvious emotional impact, social stimulation is believed to have a direct effect on the neuroendocrine and immune systems, suggesting that lack social interaction can actually make an elderly loved one more likely to develop a serious illness. To learn more the importance of seniors who are receiving care at home, review our informational blog, The Importance of Socialization for Seniors at Home.
The environment where a senior lives can also have an effect on their personal connectedness. A study in southwestern Pennsylvania found that seniors who lived in positive neighborhoods, neighborhoods where residents showed a higher degree of friendliness and were more likely to help each other out, had a better chance of retaining their physical mobility. For someone who has lost a partner or a close friend, a simple, positive greeting or casual conversation with a neighbor can help to fill that void. Daily interaction like this can stimulate the desire to continue walking and other daily exercise.
Actively Maintaining Social Interaction
There are many ways to encourage seniors to maintain social interaction. Arranging regular family visits is important. However encouraging seniors to develop their own interests and activities is vital as well. Too many older people have spent the most recent part of their life investing time and energy in their children, and sometimes seniors need a push to realize that their own existence still has value. For a loved one who is able, volunteer work or projects helping others can be very fulfilling. For others, weekly group activities, hobbies, or even a home project can give them something to think about and encourage them to get out of the house or away from the TV.
More and more, seniors are choosing to live alone as long as their health will permit it. In one way, it’s good that an elderly loved one wishes to maintain their independence. This kind of spirit will help him or her to keep a high quality of life well into old age. In another, it can be a concern since it increases isolation and it may be hard for children and other concerned relatives to know exactly how often their loved one leaves the house or interacts with others.
Home Care for Seniors
Many people would like to spend more time with aging relatives, but it can be difficult to arrange visits around work and other family obligations. Scheduling medical appointments and activities for someone else can be a full time job in itself, and most adults simply don’t have time for this. Many older people also consider it interfering when a younger relative asks questions about their social lives and may react defensively.
This is why home care can be a good option. Most people realize that medical home care is available for seniors who have minor medical needs but still want to live independently. However even seniors without any medical problems may be in need of active stimulation to ensure they are interacting with others on a regular basis. Home care can provide this with supportive, professional caregivers who visit elderly relatives regularly and provide friendly social interaction, as well as other services. A home care visit could include assistance with housework, cooking, or grocery shopping, as well as transportation to a social activity. Visits can also help to provide simple companionship. Many seniors may feel more comfortable opening up around a non-judgmental professional than a relative.
Setting up Home Care Visits
If you’re concerned about an elderly relative and not sure how much social interaction they are really getting, contact a Fairfax, VA home care agency as soon as possible. You will be surprised at how friendly and accommodating agents can be. Your elderly relative can be part of the planning process so that all the activities are tailored exactly to his or her needs. Visits can be once a week or more. The program is affordable and may be covered by insurance in some situations.
Home visits can help to give an elderly loved one the sense of belonging again. Instead of feeling isolated for weeks at a time, he or she can spend hours looking forward to the next visit and planning activities. Home care professionals can encourage seniors to take the initiative as much as possible, so it won’t feel like a loss of independence. Your elderly loved one will still be able to plan and organize his or her own life, but someone will be there to help if needed or just to share the experience and provide that friendly neighborhood feeling of support. Just knowing that a home care agent is going to visit can make the week that much easier for a senior who lives alone.
Contact Us to Learn More
The benefits of social interaction for seniors are clear and evident. To learn more about this topic or how our home care services can benefit you and your loved one, please call or contact Caring Hands Matter online today.