Thinking about our social lives, and how they influence health outcomes, is getting new attention. In February, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and UCSF published a 10-item “social frailty index”. They found a strong corollary between social frailty and physical frailty which often leads to an increased risk. So, what does this mean, and what can you do to decrease our social frailty?
Well, to start, it is important to recognize that the implications for health care are real and you can take action. Oak Street Health, a chain of primary care centers in 21 states, is trying to increase awareness in its clinics. At least three times a year they ask about loneliness and social isolation, barriers to transportation, food insecurity, financial strain, housing quality and safety, access to broadband services and utility services. According to Linda Waite at the University of Chicago and Director of the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, that is great, However, they miss a crucial question: whether their relationships with other people are positive or negative.
If you want to think about your own social situation, consider the following five questions developed by researchers in Japan:
1. Do you go out less frequently compared with last year?
2. Do you sometimes visit your friends?
3. Do you feel you are helpful to friends or family?
4. Do you live alone?
5. Do you talk to someone every day?
If you find your responses unsatisfactory, it might be time to spice up your social interactions by making some changes.
Fortunately, we are in an area that offers lots of opportunities. You might take a class at the Community Center, plan a weekly outing with a friend, attend a worship service, volunteer, or simply plop yourself down with a cup of coffee at the Depot and strike up some conversations. You could consider joining Marin Villages and getting regular help going to appointments and shopping. It might also be a good option to change your living situation to one that offers more immediate interactions with others through an ADU or joining a broader living community.
No matter what you do, keep the list handy and, like the folks at Oak Street, check it 2-3 times a year. The studies show your heart and your head will thank you, especially if you are brutally honest and get more social!