We know that social isolation may contribute to depression and other emotional responses. And, we have learned that social stimulation is good for most older adults. However, a new study suggests that social activity may keep our lungs healthier, too.
Health Psychology, a journal published by the American Psychological Association, recently unveiled a study entitled “Social integration and pulmonary function in the elderly.” This study was conducted by investigators at Carnegie Mellon University, University of California Irvine, University of California Los Angeles, and University of New Mexico.
Using data that had been collected as part of a larger study, the researchers looked at information for 518 men and 629 women who were between the ages of 70 and 79 and who were classified as “high functioning.” The data included not only an assessment of how socially active these people were but also information on their lung function (as measured by a test called PEFR, for peak expiratory flow rate).
When the scientists collected and examined all the data, they found that those people who had greater social engagement tended to have higher PEFR scores, indicating that their lungs were functioning at healthier rates.
Being married is one of the strongest and most effective means of being socially engaged, but even among people who were not married, those who were more engaged with friends, relatives, colleagues, members of their religious organization, clubs, etc. also tended to have improved PEFR scores.
The study, while important, does not necessarily prove that being more actively engaged has a direct impact on lung health; it could mean that people who are healthy have an easier time being more socially active. However, there is a correlation of some sort between the two.
Other studies have also demonstrated the mental, emotional and physical benefits of being socially engaged, so even if this study does not prove a causal link, it still makes good sense for caregivers to create opportunities for their senior loved ones to interact with others on a frequent basis.
Caring for elderly individuals presents many logistical challenges, but taking a little extra time to arrange appropriate social meetings can pay off with a happier, healthier individual.