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5 Ways Social Ties Impact Health


There are multiple factors that can affect how patients respond to treatment or how their health is maintained. One that is gaining more attention is how social interactions can benefit a person’s health.

There are multiple factors that can affect how patients respond to treatment or how their health is maintained. One that is gaining more attention is how social interactions can benefit a person’s health. Studies have found that it’s good to have friends.

Here are 5 ways social ties intertwine with healthcare.

1. Treatment response

The National Human Genome Research Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, just released findings from a study of patients who were being treated with chemotherapy in a single outpatient ward. The researchers found that being treated with other patients positively influenced the patient’s health.

“Positive social support during the exact moments of greatest stress is crucial,” one author said.

2. Importance of your social network

A patient’s social network can improve chances of survival following breast cancer. A study of a range of lifestyle factors and how they affect breast cancer survivorship found that socially isolated women had a 43% higher risk of recurrence, a 64% higher risk of dying due to breast cancer, and a 69% higher risk of all-cause mortality.

The study did find that the associations with a patient’s social network were stronger among women in earlier stages of cancer and that the associations did differ by age, race/ethnicity, and country of origin.

3. Loneliness breeds issues

Health plan CareMore is tackling loneliness in senior citizens because it can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, obesity, and premature death. Often, a doctor’s appointment is the only time a senior interacts with another person, explained Sachin Jain, MD, MBA, FACP, CEO of CareMore. The problem with loneliness is that people who don’t have any social interactions will stop caring for themselves and stop taking their medications.

A 2016 study found that the size of a person’s social network can be connected to health measures.

4. Impacting dementia outcomes

Another study, this time out of the United Kingdom, found that just 1 hour a week of social interaction could be beneficial for seniors in a nursing home. When people with dementia interacted with staff members, discussed their interests, and had a say in their own care, there was a corresponding increase in quality of life and reduction in agitation.

Plus, adding such social interactions can have present opportunities for savings in the United States, where people over the age of 85 are the fastest growing population group.

5. Far-reaching effects through social networks

Social networks can even be used to influence the health of people who are not being directly treated. At the ISPOR 22nd Annual International Meeting, Nichole Christakis, MD, PhD, of Yale University, described how real social networks that connect people to one another can provide opportunities for health intervention.

For instance, he had found that obesity spreads through networks and there are clusters of obese individuals within networks. A person has a 45% change of being obese if he or she has a friends at 1 degree of separation who was obese. The chance decreases the more degrees of separation and at 3 degrees there was no correlation.

Understanding this means that health providers can take the opportunity to manipulate those connections to deliver an intervention to one person that will spread through the network.

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