Social Wellness and the Brain

As we move out of Brain Awareness month and into July - which happens to be Social Wellness month - I thought it would be a good time to again discuss the connection between social connections and brain health. As is so often the case, writing about this topic was the impetus for me to check in on my own wellness in this dimension of my life.

I am blessed with seven siblings - which is great fun - add to that their respective spouses and children, and “children in law” and grandchildren-and you have quite a crowd. I am married to a wonderfully supportive husband and have two children, two “children in law”, and seven grandchildren-the latest addition being twins 4 months ago. I also have long time close relationships with treasured colleagues, a few very close friends, some wonderful neighbors, and a church full of friends and acquaintances. So, does all of this mean I am socially well?

The truth is that sometimes I isolate and don’t work hard enough to maintain my closest relationships. But recently we had a family wedding-and many of the aunts, uncles and cousins hit the road to celebrate one of our brood’s nuptials. A few of us rented a house together for the weekend and it became the gathering place. We spent those days connecting by eating, drinking, dancing, hugging grandmas we had not seen in forever, and passing the babies around so they never got put down. It was loud and crazy and fun. I left that weekend feeling full of love and so grateful for these relationships. And I vowed to work harder to stay connected.

Taking that inventory was helpful for me - so thanks for indulging it. Now it’s your turn. No one can tell if another person is socially “well”. Only you can know that.  A person can be in a crowd and suffering from intense loneliness. And loneliness is a risk factor for dementia- as is social isolation.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health discovered evidence that the memories of older people with active social lives may decline at a slower rate.   Gathering data from memory assessments conducted every two years from 1998 to 2004, researchers found that individuals who were most integrated in their community had the slowest rate of memory decline. Marital status, volunteer activities, and contact with parents, children and neighbors were the factors in assessment of social integration. What’s more, the findings were independent of factors such as age, gender, and race.

A key word here is integrated. It’s not enough to have friends and family. You must be involved with them, spending time together, confiding, and loving.  Social Wellness month is a good time to assess your social well-being and make some changes if need be. You will be happier and healthier and your brain will thank you.

Be Well on Purpose!

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