Everyone will tell you how important it is to remain physically active as you get older. What you probably won’t hear that much is how having a social life is also important. There are a number of well-known benefits related with physical activities, for example, you know that cardiovascular activities - such as a walk on the park - are great for your heart health and weight loss. But what you need to bear in mind is that physical activity is only just one part of staying healthy as you age. Another priority should be your social life.

Maintaining an active social life can be challenging, but the benefits - oh, the benefits! - are plenty:

  • Social activity can improve your cognitive function, in fact, social interaction is key to maintaining good mental health and warding off diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.[1]
  • Maintaining an active social life can also prevent the risk of developing depression, since it wards off feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • People with active social lives developed health limitations at a slower rate or later in life than people who led more isolated lifestyles.[2]
  • Social interactions can also help reducing stress, frustration and, ultimately, they improve your physical fitness since socializing may imply you living the house.

Over the life course, you move into and out of multiple social roles. As you get older, and since you are probably no longer exposed to new contexts or new people every day, you realize it is harder to find new friends or to sustain an active social life. However, although maintaining a social life can be demanding, it is important to stay optimistic and understand that is never too late to adopt or discover new habits and ways to boost your social life. Getting older doesn’t need to mean stop doing interesting things.

Ambient Assisted Living may help boost your social life

With more and more older adults wanting to age in place (which implies maintaining their independence as long as possible) it is crucial to find creative solutions to the familiar challenges of ensuring seniors’ ongoing safety and quality of life. Although, as you get older you may become vulnerable to losing formal social roles (whether at work or within your family), you could still seek out social activities in other arenas[1] that link your live to others and may contribute to greater social integration and possibly benefit health.

In this context, it is important to refer the Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) Programme which is a funding activity that aims to create better conditions of life for the older adults. The general goal of AAL solutions is to apply ambient intelligence technology to enable older people to live longer in their preferred environment, to enhance the quality of their lives, to reduce costs for society and public health systems, and also to promote their participation in social life.[2]

There are a few projects under the scope of the AAL Programme that aims to promote the social life of older adults:

  • SeniorEngage project: the aim of SeniorEngage project is to become a driving force in combating exclusion and depression in the retired individual by providing a platform in which he or she can continue to feel useful and improve feelings of self-worth, helping reduce isolation and encourage active engagement in community regardless of physical health. SeniorEngage may also assist those senior citizens who are returning to the job market, and assist in the achievement of the Lisbon Strategy’s goal of “50% employment of senior citizens by the year 2010” by integrating older workers into the jobs market to enable longer working lives in view of demographic change.[3]
  • FoSIBLE: the FoSIBLE project aims at the well-being and self-esteem of older people by supporting an active life-style to prevent loneliness. FoSIBLE wants to provide bridging spaces to foster social interactions and experiences by acknowledging the diversity of preferences, needs and interests. FoSIBLE will develop a Social TV community platform with game technologies and smart furniture and will provide adapted input devices including gesture recognition fostering social support between peers through virtual communities and entertainment applications.[4]
  • EMOTIONAAL: The EMOTIONAAL project aims to implement a pilot “health shop” to foster social participation and integration of older adults, together with disease prevention. The aim is the integration of new technologies in the daily life of older adults living in rural areas by means of rural units connected to ICT services, in order to support social life and the gathering of physiological data for prevention and intervention.[5]
  • V2me: Project V2me aims at alleviating loneliness, enhancing quality of life and the social connectedness of older people. The means used for reaching this goal are a virtual coach which acts as a mediator and friend, functionalities to keep in contact with others, and a friendship-enrichment programme to find new friends.[6]

As you can see, there is a variety of projects aiming at stimulate older adults to use new technologies while being active and connected with other people.

Older persons are no different from any other demographic group and want to perform meaningful activities, to have fun and to experience satisfaction when learning new things. When embedded in active social networks, you tend to enjoy better physical and mental health, so get your sociAAL life on!

[1] Thomas, P. (2011). Trajectories of Social Engagement and Limitations in Late Life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 52(4), 430–443.

[2] http://www.aal-europe.eu/about/objectives/

[3] http://seniorengage.eu/?page_id=2

[4] http://www.aal-europe.eu/projects/fosible/

[5] Bierhoff, I., Nap, H.H., Rijnen, W. & Wichert, R. (eds.) (2012).Partnerships for Social Innovation in Europe. Proceedings of the AAL Forum 2011 Lecce. Netherlands: Smart Homes

[6] Bierhoff, I., Nap, H.H., Rijnen, W. & Wichert, R. (eds.) (2012).Partnerships for Social Innovation in Europe. Proceedings of the AAL Forum 2011 Lecce. Netherlands: Smart Homes

[1] Crooks, V., Lubben, J., Petitti, D. P., Little, D. & Chiu, V. (2008). Social Network, Cognitive Function, and Dementia Incidence Among Elderly Women. American Journal of Public Health, 98(7), 1221-1227.

[2]  Thomas, P. (2011). Trajectories of Social Engagement and Limitations in Late Life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 52(4), 430–443.