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Socializing makes seniors more popular—and healthier

September 7, 2016
by Nicole Stempak, Senior Editor
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Don’t quit your yakking.

Seniors’ social networks play a role in their overall health, found Markus Schafer, assistant professor of sociology at University of Toronto.

As part of a partnership with the gerontology program at Purdue University, Schafer spent a year living in a local continuing care retirement community while completing his doctorate. He interviewed fellow residents to list who they spent face time with and with whom they discussed important matters. He used the information to build an old-fashioned friends list, then connected the links.

Schafer found seniors with poor health tended to have smaller social circles and wanted to be friends with healthier peers even though the feeling wasn’t always mutual. Those healthier peers tended to be more popular, had a more diverse range of social connections and were more often identified as a friend.

“The healthier people were, the more selective they seemed to be about their social circles,” Schafer says in a university press release. He recently received the Province of Ontario’s Early Research Award, given to academics in the first five years of their career.

Schafer found in further research using nationally representative survey data it’s not only who you know but how they know each other. Seniors with interconnected networks, where friends also know one another, were less likely to experience elder abuse.

Schafer and his team of graduate students are now working to understand how social networks affect seniors’ physical and mental health, and vice versa, as well as whether their neighborhoods influence those relationships.

Related: Social media use triples among seniors

            Social connections and health

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