Successful Aging: Is Social Interaction the Key?

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At last night’s event, research findings which show that even the ‘older old’ (those 75 years and older) can age successful were presented. But what was meant by successful aging? Those indivdiuals who were found to be aging successfully had high mental quality of life but low physical quality of life.  That is, the ‘older old’ were able to have a positive outlook on life despite poor physical health. This was particularly true in individuals who had increased social interactions. Other research supports these findings. Older people who consider themselves to be aging successfully have a sense of ‘self-efficacy’ and feel they have control over their lives while they may be physically frail.

What are some of the factors that inhibit social interaction older people?  Lack of mobility is a key limiting factor.  As people get older, they drive less and so getting around becomes more difficult. This particularly impacts on older people in rural and remote areas.  In urban areas, public transport systems are not always easily accessible for older people. Lack of disposable income among older people limits their ability to go out and participate in activities; losing a spouse or friends; depression; lack of appropriate lifelong learning educational opportunities. These are but a few of the factors which make it difficult for older people to interact with others.
It is recognized there is a need to foster social interactions between older and younger people. But how can this be accomplished when there is evidence to suggest that older people ‘fear’ younger people (particularly teenagers) and find them threatening?
Given that there is convincing evidence that social interaction is key to successful aging and improves the quality of life of older people, two other key questions were raised:
Should promoting social interaction be a legitimate policy concern?
 If social interaction is a legitimate policy concern, what should be done about it? That is, what should the roles of government, the voluntary sector and individuals be in promoting social interaction among older people?
 You can download a copy of the policy-brief from our website:
 We invite comments/answers to some of the issues and questions raised here.
Primrose Musingarimi

2 thoughts on “Successful Aging: Is Social Interaction the Key?

  1. One of the ways referred to from the floor at yesterday’s seminar was the use of the telephone to promote social interaction and reduce isolation. With the increasing accessibility of online connectivity I would like to suggest that technology enhanced connectivity including email and applications such as Skype can also extend social connectivity when physical boundaries are reduced. One of the papers on the ILC site seems also to promote this idea for the use of online social networks in this context. In a small project I was part of in South Africa I contacted women in the age range 75 – 85 who had gone online late in life to keep contact with dispersed family and friends. This despite their having no prior exposure to computer technology. They used mainly email though one woman also make use of Skype (which includes audio and video connectivity). Her growth in confidence with the use of technology resulted in her writing her family memoirs despite failing vision – this was recently published by her family.

  2. To my shame, I’ve only just discovered this report but am very glad to have done so. It may be of interest to know that I recently prepared a review for Age Concern England on older people and neighbourliness (full and briefing versions to be published shortly). I wouldn’t necessarily say that social interaction is ‘THE key’ to successful ageing, but it’s fair to say it’s the most overlooked and least appreciated. My review places the issue within a historical context of the impact of a perceived decline of neighbourliness, and factors such as the increasingly discretionary nature of neighbouring.

    Incidentally, I think Patsy Clark is absolutely right to stress the enormous potential of online networks. As a group, older people’s use of online is increasing more rapidly than any other age group and user-friendly networking systems are becoming widely accessible. It could be a good time for a thorough study of older people’s social networks which took account of such channels, the amount of face-to-face interaction that takes place (independently or as a consequence of remote connections), and the extent to which local connections predominate (or don’t).

    Kevin Harris

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