Healthwatch 16: Helping Older Adults Stay Social

WILKES-BARRE -- A couple of years ago, a Gallup poll found that socialization is clearly linked to happiness and lower stress levels. And those 65 and older reported the highest levels of happiness of any age group when they spent at least three hours daily socializing.

A doctor in the Geisinger group backs that up and introduces us to a man she says is living those study results.

There's a mid-day bowling game going on at the LIFE Geisinger Wilkes-Barre location, inside Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre on Church Street.

Joseph Yale, age 84, comes here five times a week. The jacket and tie aren't just for the camera; he likes to dress up every day and says he likes coming here.

"It's real good!" said Yale. "Gets you out of the house every day. I used to travel and I lost my license."

"He always wanted to be very independent, wanted to stay at home if he could, for as long as he could, safely," said his son Joseph Yale Jr.

His son, who lives in Danville, says his dad wants to stay active. LIFE Geisinger is a program that allows older adults to live independently, including rides to and from home and doctor visits, and in some cases home care as well.

But the real beauty in it, according to staff physician Dr. Joyce Morano, is the socialization it provides.

"Studies have been done that have shown that increasing socialization in the elderly helps an individual not only maintain their cognitive function, but it also slows down the decline in cognitive function," said Dr. Morano.

Dr. Morano says among the 22 participants here, and the 83 at their Scranton site, she has seen many relationships blossom, some of which continue outside of the program. And she thinks that has real benefits to both the quality and length of their lives.

"When a participant helps another participant it's a win-win. The one teaching helps improve their cognitive function and the one learning something new helps maintain cognitive function as well," Dr. Morano said.

"Dad's a very social person and I think being around people for the better part of the day gives him something to look forward to," said Yale.

A different study found that mental health is not the only thing positively affected by socialization. It also improved nutrition and physical health for seniors as well, both of which can boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, and reduce physical pains that can develop from depression.