The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) has come up with scientific evidence on the connection of better social engagement to better brain health as people age. The emphasis of the findings center on positive relationships that last over time and help maintain a persons well-being and brain health. From these findings, they made 15 actionable recommendations to build relationships to help strengthen your mental well-being.
- Focus on the relationships or social activities you enjoy the most.
- If you have no one around who can help you engage socially, turn to professionals who can assist like telephone hotlines, drop-in centers, a chat with a local religious leader, etc.
- If you feel lonely, you can try to change this by making a new connection or by seeking different opportunities to engage with others.
- If there are barriers to interacting with people (i.e., difficulty getting around, unsafe neighborhood), see if you can identify someone you could ask for help, and let someone assist you in making connections.
- Try to keep a circle of friends, family or neighbors with whom you can exchange ideas, thoughts, concerns and practical matters, and who can also help or encourage you. It does not need to be a large group of people as long as those in it are important to you and you are important to them. Try to have at least one trustworthy and reliable friend to communicate with weekly and someone you feel you can trust and can count on.
- If you are married, this can benefit your cognitive health, but you should consider fostering other important relationships. Individuals who have never married or are divorced or widowed often have many other connections like a pet that provide support.
- Try to speak every now and then with relatives, friends and/or neighbors; communicate in person, or by phone, email or other means.
- Help others, whether informally or through organizations or volunteer opportunities. For example, visit a neighbor or friend, shop for/with them, or try cooking together.
- Maintain social connections with people of different ages. Keep in touch with grandchildren or volunteer to help people at a local school or community center. Think about the skills you have and that you use often that might be valuable to pass on to others. Offer to help teach a younger person skills you may already have such as cooking, organizing an event, assembling furniture, saving for the future, etc.
- Add a new relationship or social activity you didn’t try before. Place yourself in everyday situations where you can meet and interact with others.
- Be active and challenge yourself to try out different organized clubs, courses, interest groups, political organizations, religious gatherings, or cooking classes.
- If you are already socially active, diversify your activities. Consider joining or starting a group that doesn’t exist in your community and is centered around a common interest that you and others will enjoy.
In addition, here are 3 tips for people who find it hard to socialize:
- Take small steps to connect with others. Share a smile a day with someone, show interest in someone by asking how they are, hold a door for someone, and practice a random act of kindness to help you become comfortable with socializing.
- Reach out to neighbors or acquaintances whom you may not have spoken to in a long time via phone, a card, email, or social media.
- Look at the list of additional resources that we provide in Appendix 1 in this article and consider using them.