Nurses don't treat cases or illnesses, they treat people. The way patients interact with their family and peers may impact their health more than was once believed. Experienced nurses understand that stress can wreak havoc on a person's immune system, but that's not the only way that the environment can affect patient health.
In fact, there are many ways that support from communities can improve personal health. Speaking with friends, petting animals and playing games can help people achieve their health goals.
Here are a few examples of how social experiences can impact patient health:
Lonely people feel stronger cold symptoms
A study from the American Psychological Association found that people who claim to feel lonely experience more severe cold symptoms, such as fever, cough and sneezing. The phrasing of the study's findings is key to understanding how psychology plays a role in patient health.
Rather than objective social isolation, it is the perception of loneliness that seems to augment cold symptoms. Even if a person is surrounded by people every day, they may still feel lonely. Causes for the perception of loneliness are many – the patient may not feel strong connections with their peers, or feel homesick. There could be an underlying psychological ailment as well.
If nurses believe their patients may be experiencing severe loneliness, they could suggest local support groups or help patients develop strategies for dealing with feelings of isolation.
Socializing may prevent dementia
According to the Alzheimer's Association, remaining socially active could help prevent dementia. The association reported that, in a study of 800 men and women over age 75, those who were more socially engaged, physically fit or intellectually stimulated had a lower risk of developing dementia.
Engaging in active conversation, playing games, walking in nature and many other social activities could help older patients lead healthier lives. The Washington Post reported that even playing video games could help dementia patients delay the symptoms of the ailment. Games specifically designed to exercise cognitive functions such as critical thinking and mental speed could play an integral role in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease in the future.
Nurses who work with dementia patients should engage them in active conversation and encourage interaction with other patients, friends and family members.
Pet therapy can help expedite treatments
Playing with cats and dogs may be good for patient health. According to the Mayo Clinic, pet therapy can help people recover from a wide array of ailments, such as cancer, heart disease and mental health disorders.
Country Living reported on an animal shelter and a nursing home in Arizona that work together to provide therapy kittens to residents with dementia. A session of playing with and petting a kitten could help the patient recall fond memories of playing with an animal as a child – plus it significantly raised the spirits of all involved.
Healthcare doesn't exist in a vacuum. The way people interact with the world on a social level can impact their wellbeing. Nurses should encourage positive interactions and always be aware of how social situations can impact patient health.