Activities and friends keep seniors happy - up to a point

Activities and friends keep seniors happy - up to a point
A study by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation showed that once people have a certain level of social interaction, more interaction does not do them much good or harm. Once a person has an adequate social life, his well-being is more dependent on a myriad of other factors, such as mobility and financial constraints.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Get Grandpa out of the house to mingle with others and he will be less likely to have dementia or be depressed, past research has found.

Yet a new study has discovered that the relationship between social isolation and one's mental well-being is not so clear-cut.

Findings from a study by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation show that while it is generally true that a socially active person tends to be less depressed and have higher life satisfaction, that relationship applies only up to a certain amount of social interaction.

Beyond that point, further strengthening one's social network will make no significant difference on his mental well-being.

"This suggests that once people have a certain level of social interaction, more interaction does not do them much good or harm," said Associate Professor John Donaldson, who teaches political science at the Singapore Management University.

Prof Donaldson led the study that focused on the needs of the elderly in Singapore. Interviews were done with 102 senior citizens from a low-income neighbourhood.

Once a person has an adequate social life, his well-being is then more dependent on a myriad of other factors, such as mobility and financial constraints, said the researchers.

"This does not mean that a person should stop going out or that there's no point in organising social activities, but rather we need to address other factors and examine the type of social networks one is in," said Ms Cate Smith, who is one of the study's researchers.

Only certain types of social networks have a big impact on mental wellness, the study found.

These are relationships with one's children or grandchildren or people that one can depend on in times of need.

Conversely, one's relationship with relatives, friends and neighbours or whether one is living alone or not does not matter as much in determining a person's degree of mental wellness.

"So the implication then is not only to look at the number of activities or relationships, but also to enhance the depth of those relationships, especially with family, and one way to do so is to have spaces and services where grandparents and their grandchildren can interact more," said Ms Smith.

Mr Keith Lee, director of AWWA Health and Senior Care, said these findings are useful because community groups often see the same few faces on the ground.

According to the findings, these activities are unlikely to benefit the regulars much, compared with their potential impact on new people.

"Grassroots or community groups often report that they see a certain number of participants, but actually they are drawing from a common pool of seniors and the beneficiaries can be from the same group of elderly," said Mr Lee.

"What will be useful is either tracking the number of new participants or getting the regulars to bring in new friends."


This article was first published on July 2, 2015.
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