Maintaining social connections in later life is an important factor in reducing the risk of depression, anxiety and more common types of dementia.
Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease.
Yet while retirement itself is not a risk factor for depression or anxiety, not having a broad social circle, activities to participate in or interests to cultivate in retirement can be.
Studies have shown for older Australians in particular, supportive relationships decline as they get older.
This is of particular concern when, according to population projections by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there will be between 2.8 and 3.7 million people living alone in Australia by 2026. The data shows the number of older Australians living alone is also expected to increase to between 34 per cent and 39 per cent.
In Mental Health and Later Life, John Keady and Sue Wats wrote that there were a number of other factors potentially increasing older people’s vulnerability to social isolation. These included when social networks became reduced when work was no longer a feature of daily routine, when networks diminished as people get older and friends and family die, and when fear of crime led to a reluctance to go out, especially after dark.
Prominent health researcher Jonathan Lomas suggested that the degree to which we trust and associate with each other in caring communities is “probably one of the most important determinants of health”.
Fighting the loneliness epidemic among active seniors, however, does not have to be difficult.
The body of scientific evidence suggests social engagement can help maintain thinking skills and slow cognitive decline. Other studies link an active social life with better cardiovascular outcomes and greater immunity to infectious disease, among other health benefits.