How Can Social Networks Help Improve the Health of Older Americans?

Sep 19, 2013, 1:00 PM, Posted by

Wendy Yallowitz, program officer Wendy Yallowitz, program officer

Many retired adults are extremely active, playing golf, volunteering for local civic groups, participating in book clubs and participating in other social activities. But as the years go by, your life changes and your social interactions change too. You grow frailer, which can create barriers to your participation in family and community events. You rely more on the help of caregivers including neighbors and family, for routine activities. To live independently, you pay someone to help you bathe, drive you to appointments, clean your house, and prepare your meals.

But could these social interactions be opportunities to facilitate healthy aging?

The Business Innovation Factory is studying how older adults participate and behave in their social networks, looking at where and how older adults currently engage with others. With this information, they hope to identify opportunities to use these existing resources to increase the independence of aging Americans. For instance, is there a role my hairdresser can play in ensuring my safety and good health? If I forgot about my hair appointment, could she notify a family member to check on me?

Many of us have social routines that include a network of people who, although we might not consider them our best friends, add incredible value to our lives and make a profound impact on our happiness. Some of these people might even know more details about our lives than our family.

I hope we find innovative ways to use these social networks to help older Americans stay independent and continue to live a quality life, so that when I am older and might need a little extra help to continue to do not just what makes me healthy but what make me happy, I can rely on my network.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.