Most of us rarely give our daily relationships with friends, work colleagues and close family a second thought. We’ll share a joke, make each other a cup of tea or have a hug without considering the deep emotional impact it has on us.
Fortunately, for many of us the lack of any of these relationships won’t ever really be felt but when they disappear they can have a marked impact.
I’ve been volunteering at my local Age UK in Brighton for a few months now, teaching people computer skills on a drop-in basis. As someone who’s fairly tech-savvy, I’m usually able to answer most questions posed, be it email problems, finding specific information online or tweaking settings on an iPad.
But the truth of it is, the ‘computer problems’ aren’t the real reason people drop in on a regular basis. What the older people are really there for is the social element.
Benefits of social interaction for older people
You see, human contact – even on a non-physical basis – has tremendous plusses for your health.
People who continue to maintain close friendships and find other ways to interact socially live longer than those who become isolated. Relationships and social interactions even help protect against illness by boosting your immune system.
University of Rochester Medical Centre
In no particular order, social interaction can
- potentially reduce risk for cardiovascular problems, some cancers, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis
- potentially reduce risk for Alzheimer’s disease
- lower blood pressure
- Reduce risk of mental health issues such as depression
And from my experiences so far, it’s clear that people may come to use the computers, but they also want to have a chat and pass the time of day.
They want to share their own stories, but are also keen to find out more about each other – and even me.
In fact, during the run-up to the General Election, I got into a tremendously fierce debate about politics with one lovely 91-year-old chap who’s a regular. And it was enjoyable and we both laughed at the end of it, agreeing to disagree with each other.
Grange Hill life lesson
This thought came to me in the same week that Grace Dent wrote a powerful article in the Independent, following the death of former Grange Hill star Terry Sue-Patt (aka Benny).
She reminded us that when Grange Hill was in its infancy, we used to rush to school to talk excitedly with each other face-to-face about last night’s TV.
No number of ‘likes’ on Facebook can replace the joy or reliving the previous night’s episode of Top of The Pops, because it was genuine social currency and true human interaction.
Don’t get me wrong, the ability of digital tools and platforms to connect friends and family over long distances can’t be underestimated, but in order to live a long and healthy life we all still need and desire some good old-fashioned human company.