Why play and making friends matters as you age
Maintaining meaningful friends, feeling a part of a community, and having fun are vital pillars to a healthy life.
However, older adults have been swimming against the tide of pervasive isolation and loneliness, and organizations are taking note. Ageless Innovation, a company whose products and events are aimed at combating social isolation, announced their Reach Out and Play initiative for this fall. Sponsored by the AARP, the initiative helps older adults socialize by making play a part of their schedule. Ahead of Grandparents Day in September, the campaign is hosting over 100 free board game events nationwide for all generations.
“Play is a basic human need for people of all ages. It can foster essential social connections, improve emotional health and well-being, and bring joy as we live and age together,” says Ted Fischer, co-founder and CEO of Ageless Innovation, who adds that the “power of play” is seeing light-hearted fun as key to a healthy life. “As the epidemic of loneliness and isolation continues to escalate, there is no better time to create these ‘playful’ opportunities that can positively impact society at large.”
Loneliness runs rampant
Nearly a fourth of adults 65 and older are socially isolated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those numbers are rising. A consumer report this summer found that a third of Americans are lonelier now than ever before, and a newly released AARP survey of over 1,000 adults conducted in June found nearly a third of those 50 and older feel often or always lonely or isolated from those around them.
In a previous AARP study conducted in April, researchers found that nearly half of those 50 and older say making friends is harder as they age, and a third say the same about maintaining older friends as they age. Six percent of older adults said they have no friends—this percentage grew for Black, Hispanic and Latino, and low-income Americans.
The numbers lay bare that loneliness is a significant public health concern, as it puts older adults at risk for dementia, mental health challenges, and chronic conditions like heart disease. This month, a study published in the JAMA Network Open further found that those with cognitive decline living alone are at risk for forgetting medications and appointments, and not having anyone to take them to the hospital in an emergency. In the study, researchers interviewed 76 health care providers, many of whom said their patients had no emergency contacts listed. One case manager said, they often didn’t see “a family member, not even a friend to rely on in case of a crisis,” according to the study’s press release.
It highlights how connection is not only an important pillar for happiness and well-being but for safety as we age.
“Social connection has been identified by researchers as a critical factor to healthy aging, yet many Americans struggle with chronic loneliness or social isolation and may not realize how important regularly interacting with others is to their overall health,” says Heather Nawrocki, the Vice President of Fun & Fulfillment at the AARP.
To combat the effects of isolation, integrating and facilitating play should be top of mind. It can help foster new friendships, while also keeping older adults safer and healthier.
Older adults are ready for recess
The verdict is in: play is not just for kids at recess.
A majority of adults (87%) view play as a vital part of their health, according to the AARP survey; over 50% also view board games as beneficial for their health, as 65% see it as a way to make social connections. As a result, about half of older adults want to play board games more frequently, especially women 50 years and older and those who consider themselves lonely.
Your brain on play
Engaging in play also has bonus brain benefits.
While play—whether a game or a new activity—can help combat the health consequences of isolation, it can also distract from the chaos of our lives and can bring us levity. (Why do you think so many of us were making up card games and board games in the height of the pandemic?) Trying a new hobby stimulates the brain, which releases reward hormones in response to conquering something new and satisfying. Play can also lessen feelings of depression and help instill a sense of purpose in our lives, Fischer says.
The ReachOut and Play events start September 5th. See if there’s an event near you on their website.