Social integration plays an important role in keeping adults mentally, physically, and emotionally fit

The secret to living a long, healthy, and happy life may come as a surprise. The number one predictor of how long someone will live isn’t physical activity or a healthy diet. In fact, it’s social integration—a person’s interactions with others as she goes about her day, according to research by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD of Brigham Young University.

Social interactions keep older adults mentally, physically, and emotionally fit and give their lives a sense of purpose.

Getting those social interactions isn’t always easy, however. The US Census Bureau reports that 11 million, or 28 percent, of people aged 65 and older live alone, which is a predisposing factor for social isolation. Other common obstacles to social integration include mobility problems, no family members living nearby, and loss of a spouse.

Overcoming these obstacles is important because socially isolated seniors are likely to be sicker, die sooner, and have higher healthcare expenses than seniors who socialize.

Prescott resident Jo Cheek has encountered—and overcome—many obstacles as she’s aged. Now, she lives a full life with a great social schedule that gives her a sense of community and purpose.

Once an avid horsewoman, Jo was driving home from horse training on Halloween day in 2005 when she was rear-ended on Williamson Valley Road. The accident left her with a badly damaged knee doctors couldn’t repair with a knee replacement (and to this day, she uses a walker and wheelchair).

Jo has always led an active life. When her husband, Bill, began to experience vision loss and poor hearing, she knew she needed help. Her five children, eight grandchildren, and four great grandchildren live in either California or Washington state, so she turned to Home Care Assistance. The agency provided transportation for Jo’s many activities, assistance with her wheelchair and most of all, companionship for Bill. Home Care Assistance matched the couple with their perfect caregiver, Patricia Roberts. Patricia took Bill out for coffee or lunch, and the two of them bonded over outings and the many conversations they had.    

Last November, when Bill passed away unexpectedly, Patricia stayed on to assist Jo.

Patricia helps with household tasks that can be challenging from a wheelchair, like making the bed, filling the bird feeder, and rolling the trash to the street on pick-up day. She rearranged the cupboards and closets to put items within Jo’s reach. And, to ensure Jo gets nutritious meals, Patricia prepares salads, chops vegetables for snacks, and marinates meats Jo can cook later.

More importantly, Jo said, “Patricia is like a sister.” They do things together.

Jo’s social life includes a weekly card party with friends at her home. Patricia helps Jo make the main dish for the potluck lunch, changes the tablecloth, sets the table, and cleans up.

Jo is also a member of the Prescott Area Iris Society (PAIS). She grows irises in raised planters, and Patricia helps by watering the plants, using neem oil on garden pests, and delivering the plants to the annual Spring Iris Show and the annual plant sale, which benefits PAIS’s many community outreach programs.   

Jo participates in a weekly knitting group and a twice-weekly Aqua Fit water aerobics class, and is proud that she’s learned how to play the Native American flute—she gave her first performance last May.

Volunteerism has been a theme in Jo’s life.  According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, research shows that volunteering is associated with active lifestyles and health benefits, particularly for older Americans.   They experience better health, enjoy greater levels of well being, lower rates of depression and increased strength and energy.

Despite the obstacles she has encountered, Jo said, in large part thanks to Patricia’s companionship and assistance, she hasn’t had to give up anything she likes to do.

Like all Home Care Assistance caregivers, Patricia was trained in proprietary Balanced Care MethodTM, a holistic approach to longevity that promotes healthy mind, body, and spirit.

Carol White, owner of Home Care Assistance, said, “Jo and Patricia exemplify this approach to aging well through socialization, a sense of purpose, mental stimulation, physical activity and a healthy diet.” She added, “For older adults with advanced care needs, such as Alzheimer’s, we add two additional programs in which we are certified: The Best FriendsTM Approach to Dementia Care and the Music & Memory Program.”

When asked about her advice for older adults, Jo said, “Do something you enjoy and do it with others to increase the enjoyment. Have friends and mix with all ages. Never stop learning.  Have a routine, but throw it out once in a while.”

Although Jo’s adult children have asked her to move closer to them, she likes where she is—and her family has peace of mind knowing that Patricia is there to support their mother’s ability to stay in her own home and remain independent.

For more information about Home Care Assistance visit their office at 377 N Montezuma St #110, Prescott, AZ 86301; call (928) 771-0105; or visit their website at