A Virginia Tech expert in gerontology — the study of old age and the process of aging — encourages families to stay connected with their older loved ones while practicing social distancing, even as new challenges increase the complexity of staying in touch.
“Staying socially engaged is a critical part of healthy aging, and maintaining social connections combats loneliness and depression. Research has shown an association between meaningful social engagement and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, lower blood pressure, and sharper cognitive skills,” says Karen Roberto, a University Distinguished Professor, senior fellow at the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology, and founding director of the Virginia Tech Institute for Society, Culture and Environment.
“Conversely, social isolation and feelings of loneliness increases behavioral health problems such as sleep disturbance, depressive symptoms, and fatigue in older adults,” Roberto says. “Think of positive social interactions as exercise for the mind and soul: it boosts morale, reduces risk for depression, eases anxiety, helps keep the mind alert, and puts a smile on people’s face.”
Roberto notes that while about 70 percent of older adults report being digitally connected, their level of engagement varies not only according to personal characteristics and preferences, but by ease of use and access.