Need a good reason to re-connect with your neighbors? A recent study published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke suggests stroke patients living in close-knit communities literally live longer than stroke patients who get limited social interaction.
The benefits of community support don’t only apply to patients recovering from stroke; the study also found people in socially active areas are more likely to survive a stroke to begin with.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Rush University in Chicago studied 5,789 seniors living in three adjacent neighborhoods in Chicago. Of the participants, 62% were African-American and 60% women with an average age of 75. The research team interviewed participants about their neighborhoods and determined the level of cohesiveness by asking questions like, “how often [the people] saw neighbors and friends talking — outside in the yard or on the street.” They also asked whether the neighbors took care of each other, such as doing yard work for one another or watching children, and whether the people in the neighborhood looked out for neighbors or called if they noticed a problem. Participants were also asked if they knew neighbors by name, did they have friendly talks at least once a week, and if they felt they could call on their neighbors for help or a favor, such as lending a cup of sugar.
“Social isolation is unhealthy on many levels, and there is a lot of literature showing that increased social support improves not just stroke, but many other health outcomes in seniors,” study researcher Cari Jo Clark, ScD, of the University of Minnesota, said in a news release. “What is unique about our research is that we have taken this to the neighborhood level instead of just looking at the individual.”
The results showed that for each single point in the scoring system for neighborhood cohesion, stroke survival increased 53%. It’s also interesting to note that the incidence of stroke was similar among neighborhoods, but survival rates differed. It was far better for those living in cohesive neighborhoods, regardless of gender. The difference in stroke survival was only seen in white study participants but not in the African-American participants.
“Obviously, a complex set of factors influences health in older adults and we need to be careful drawing conclusions from these data,” Clark says. “Other research also has shown that the health-protective effects of cohesive neighborhoods may be stronger in whites. We plan to conduct future studies to try to understand these findings.”
Homework assignment: catch up with a neighbor this week!