Can friendships between women and womens’ groups help to neutralize toxins? Think of it this way. The more you challenge your brain, the more connections you build between brain cells, according to the book The Longevity Factor: How Resveratrol and Red Wine Activate Genes for a Longer and Healthier Life, by Dr. Joseph Maroon.
So many studies done locally point to older women in Sacramento with social networks as healthier and less likely to get hit with dementia. But is it really true that any friendships at all, even if full of conflict and aggravation, are better than a solitary lifestyle with lots of new skills to learn online? And on the other hand, if you’re looking for friends, try asking people to tell you their life story to record on your video camera, and then send them a copy on a DVD.
“It’s difficult to meet new friends when you haven’t been out of her house after dark in the last three decades,” says retired Sacramento electronics technician, JVK. “Most social meetings are geared toward working adults and take place in the evening, not during the afternoon hours when seniors are active. With more cuts in bus service, it’s a going long walk to the nearest senior community center.”
The question is, can the nutrients in dark chocolate evoke the same type of release of the brain chemical, oxytocin that a satisfying friendship or marriage brings about? If isolated seniors have no visitors or close relationships, can certain types of nutrition nurture brain cells, neutralize toxins, help them dodge diseases by increasing immunity, rejuvenate cells, and help them live longer–with the right supplements–that could take the place of dwindling frienships?
Maybe, if you can keep a happy outlook on the inside. Happy people produce less cortisol, a stress hormone bent on aging the body. So if your friendships are making you feel stressed, can avoiding relationships do the opposite? In other words, if you don’t have friends, can it make up for having friends that cause you grief? Can going to a house of worship really add a decade to your life–even if you’re a humanist? Which adds more life to your years, getting an annual physical or going to church?
What happens what someone with a solitary personality who prefers being alone ages? Does the solitary person, particularly a woman, become more likely to develop dementia than the extrovert with a large social network? See the article, “Elderly women with larger social networks are less likely to develop dementia.” In California, Kaiser Permanente Southern California health maintenance group, USA; 2001–2005 did a study.
In the study, Kaiser Permanente assessed the participants’ social network size using the Lubben Social Network Scale-6 (LSNS-6). The scale measured the size of the social network (people heard from or seen at least once a month), perceived support network (people who could be called on for help) and perceived confidant network (people who could be talked to about private matters).
The scale provides a total score between 0 and 30. Higher scores indicate a larger network. Frequency of contact with family and friends was also assessed (less than 1, 1–2, 3–6 times/week and once a day). Analyses were adjusted for potential confounding factors, such as baseline cognitive status, age, education, hormone use and the presence of selected health conditions.
In another study, people who have active social lives are 22% less likely to develop serious illnesses. The study compared those with lots of friends or at least meaningful friendships with solitary individuals. What is it about spending time with friends that extends life?
It’s a chemical in the brain triggered by friendships called oxytocin. The problem is oxytocin also is triggered by eating dark chocolate. So should you order 99% cocoa chocolate and eat an ounce a day for two weeks? Or should you go out and look to see where you can make a friend if you’re an older person?
Actually, what the oxytocin study found was that spending time with friends releases the oxytocin so that stress levels are cut by 25%. The oxytocin from the friendships, if they were meaningful or at least satisfying and not tension or conflict causing actually reduced blood pressure, improved immunity, stabilized blood sugar, and other changes. For example, the changes were made at the biochemical level.
The aging process of the organs and cells slowed down. This particular study was performed by a University of Chicago research team. But does having or making new friends really add half a decade to your life? Or could a solitary life style and vitamin supplements also do the same for those whose friendships in the past have been unsatisfactory?
Other studies have shown that for those who have solitary personalities as a life-long preference to be alone for comfort and meditation, the same benefit might be obtained by learning new skills. For some people being solitary feels more relaxed than trying to be accepted in a strange environment for someone who is made to feel like an outsider or somehow different. Others feel at home wherever they are.
One example might be for someone who prefers a solitary lifestyle because it’s more relaxing to work alone can benefit by learning to do something new such as playing an instrument, learning to knit, or taking online courses. One way for older adults to meet new people is to become a videobiographer or a storyteller. For example as an oral historian, the solitary older adult might interview others to record their life story highlights on video. It’s one way of making new friends.
For others, it’s learning to tell stories to children or read to them. But for those who feel anxious or jittery among people or are afraid of being judged, learning skills where you can communicate online in a constructive way, making new friends online is another way to nurture brain cells–by teaching others a skill.