Socialization and The Brain

Imagine being born and never having any social interaction for the rest of your life. History has recorded many children isolated from birth, referred to as feral children. The definition of a wild child is a human child who has lived away from human contact from a young age and has little or no experience of human care, loving or social behavior, or, crucially, of human language. Social isolation damages the body’s physiological functions and the development of the nervous system’s support cells, which affects the development and maintenance of cognitive functioning.


As we age, people disappear from our lives in many ways. For seniors who spent years pursuing careers, the post-retirement life may reduce access to many social events that come with being part of the workforce. Later, friends are lost as they move into senior communities or inevitably die. As this happens, our pool of people to socialize with becomes smaller. When this happens, many seniors may not have the resources to make new friends or become so mentally low; they find it hard to make an effort. Adapting to new social challenges is hard enough without throwing social distancing because of Covid-19 into the mix, so how can we adapt in both of these circumstances?


Both writing and receiving letters or cards can change one’s mood dramatically. Writing a letter to someone has become a thing of the past and is referred to as snail mail, yet most of us still get excited when we open the mailbox and see the handwritten correspondence. I always get excited when I write to someone because I imagine their spirits lifted when they receive it as mine are when I am the recipient of such mail.


Watching a movie with a friend is no longer possible because of social distancing or limited mobility. Watching movies together is better than alone because you can discuss the film afterward and learn something about the movie from someone else that you didn’t pick up on yourself. You can still experience this differently, set a time when you can both watch the same movie in your own home and then call one another once the film has ended and discuss it. You can also go to Teleplay and download apps so that you can watch the movie with several other people and chat as you watch.


Chatting on the phone is another way to socialize without contact, but this is not easy when you have not been out of the house or altered your routine for weeks. Ted Talks are a great way to expand one’s learning, activate brain cells, and have a topic for discussion with friends or family on the phone.


Find a new friend. The Letter League: Adult Pen Pal Group is an excellent place to start. After filling out a questionnaire and paying a registration fee, The Letter League will match you to a person with similar interests and send a pen pal kit containing everything you need to send your first ten letters (envelopes, postage, etc.).


Start a Facebook group. We have had so much fun looking at old photographs and recalling memories. My daughter’s friend just started one called “Memories of Ware, ” where we lived in Hertfordshire, England.


While the suggestions above may not be as good as physical interaction, they can provide the social interaction needed to help maintain cognitive function. Some studies have shown that those connected to others even live a longer, happier life because friends can help you deal with the stresses of life and encourage you to live a healthier lifestyle.

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