Google+ Consumer Psyche: Can Facebook help you live longer?


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Can Facebook help you live longer?

I read a lot. That means I chose what to read and what not. And if I am exceptionally impressed with something only then I re-post. Here is one such gem of an article from Dr. Jame Abraham. Read on...

It was about 8.30 p.m. Darkness was spreading its wings outside the hospital window. The evening nurses were busy charting the patients assigned for the night. The corridors, which are usually bustling with resident doctors and consultants, were almost empty except for the cleaning crew with their noisy and heavy equipment. The smell of bleach and cleaning solution pervaded the atmosphere.
Room 854 was dimly lit and very quiet.

Mrs Payton was sleeping peacefully. She had an internal fixing of right femur the previous night and had not fully recovered from the sedatives that were used for the procedure. Her husband was slumped in a chair holding her hand and in deep sleep. His head was resting on the side of the bed. The silence in the room was only interrupted by the soft dripping sounds of the IV Fluid. Muted scenes from the old popular show MASH danced across the TV screen. I am sure; one of the nurses must have pressed the mute button when she saw them sleeping so peacefully.
A beautiful bouquet of fresh red roses and their wedding photo resting on the side table were the silent witnesses in the room. They were probably in their twenties in the picture. She looked so radiant and happy in her long flowing white wedding gown. He was in his military uniform. He fought in the Korean and Vietnam wars. They were high school sweet-hearts.

I almost felt guilty waking them up. A hospital is a horrible place to rest. Often in the middle of the night, when you are fast asleep, the nurses might come and ask, “Are you sleeping?” and then stick a cold thermometer into your mouth.
“Good, you have no fever. Now you can go back to sleep.” It is a cruel joke.
Reluctantly, I followed “the rules” of the hospital.
“Mr Payton, sorry to wake you up.” I touched his wrist gently. His fair skin revealed prominent blue veins.

He jolted out of the chair. “Sorry, I could not keep myself awake.” He rubbed his eyes with both hands.
“Finally, my age is catching up with me.” His paunch moved rhythmically with his laugh. Payton is nearly 84 years old now.
“We spent all night at the emergency room. They took her for surgery only early in the morning.” Payton was not complaining. He was just stating the facts. I have never heard him complain.

“Dr Abraham...” Mrs Payton woke up with a smile. Her memory was fading, but her smile was not.
“Have the children left?” She scanned the room. “I don’t know when I fell asleep, they were still here, I guess,” she looked at Payton.
“Yep, they left around 8 when the visiting time was over.” Their whole family was with them all day.
“What happened, Mrs Payton? How did you fall?” I pulled a chair and sat close to her bed.

“Oh, I don’t know, I think I tripped on the carpet,” she looked at Payton.
“Honey, you missed the step to the patio. I didn’t know that she was going to break her bone!!”
“I am glad she did not hit her head.” Mrs Payton looked pleasantly confused.
“Her head is too hard. It does not crack that easily doc,” Payton had not lost his sense of humor. “I have been married to her for 60 years. I know how hard-headed she is,” he laughed.
“Mrs Payton, you have been married to the same man for too long. I think you should think about finding a new man.” Mrs Payton laughed at my joke.
“Dr Abraham, I have been thinking about that for the past 50 years. I am afraid that no good woman in her right mind will take him,” she looked at his face and then at their wedding picture. He was still holding her hand.
She had an early stage breast cancer. She was on an anti-oestrogen treatment, which can potentially cause thinning of the bone or osteoporosis. I wondered if her fracture was caused by that.

“We may have to stop the pills for cancer and assess your bones carefully with a scan.”
“Doctor, whatever you say.” They echoed simultaneously.
“We just had another great granddaughter last week,” he pulled a picture from his smart phone.
We talked about their grandson graduating from college and great grandson playing basketball.
As I drove back home, I thought about the Paytons and their secret to happiness and longevity. Are both concepts intertwined? Do happy people actually live longer?

A Canadian study titled, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy: Positive Affect and Reduced Ten Year Incident of Coronary Heart Disease,” crossed my mind. The study followed 1,739 adults in their mid-forties over ten years. On a one-to-five scale, trained nurses rated the subjects for “positive affect”—defined by the authors as “the experience of pleasurable emotions such as joy, happiness, excitement, and contentment”. Each one-point increase in positive affect was linked to a 22 per cent reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease (such as heart attack). I thought that was pretty amazing.
Emotion such as happiness is your reaction to the environment. Two people can live through the same experience and react in totally different ways. Is the glass half full or half empty? I am pretty sure that the Paytons always looked at life as half full. Even after spending long hours at the hospital emergency room, they were not upset with the world.

According to a Danish twin study, about 10 per cent of how long an average person lives depends on his genes and 90 per cent is dictated by his lifestyle. But what is the perfect formula for the ideal lifestyle. Dan Buettner, who lead the Blue Zone Project, learned some fascinating tips about longevity from various corners of the world. He went to Sardinia Island of Noro Province in Italy, and Okinawa, Japan, which have 10 times more centenarians than the average US population.
He identified factors like low-intensity physical activity, a vegetable-based diet and wines as important ingredients for long life. But the social connectivity of these communities was extremely strong. In these communities, the social equity of a person increases as you grow old.

Another amazing aspect of the Paytons’ story is that they are so connected. They have a large family and they are very much part of the community they live in. Probably, happy people are more connected, too. He still plays golf with his buddies several times a week. She volunteers at the local church. Their social support and connectivity are amazing.
I have never seen Mrs Payton come to an appointment by herself. I wonder how Payton will cope if anything happens to her or vice-versa. The concept of “dying from a broken heart is not just a myth”. The chances of dying when a partner dies is about 50 per cent and it is called the widowhood effect.

Isolation kills; social connectivity is important for longevity. A Denmark study showed that, the feeling of loneliness was found to be associated with increased cardiovascular mortality, especially in males.
Social media, especially Facebook, has revolutionised the concept of social connectivity. More than 750 million people are connected through Facebook. If Facebook is a country, it will be the third most populous in the world after China and India. An average person has about 130 friends on Facebook. It is almost a new measure of social equity.
What draws people to Facebook and other social media? Is it a fear of open communication? It definitely provides an outlet and avenue for people to live in a social world of their choice.

But is that going to help us live longer? I don’t have the answer to that. Facebook has more traffic than Google. One in every 13 people on Earth is on Facebook. Almost 50 per cent of the 18-34-year-olds check Facebook right when they wake up. In 20 minutes almost of 2 million friend requests are accepted. The study of impact of Facebook “Facebookology” is in its infancy. But I think its social impact is definitely worth studying.
The Paytons’ keep it very simple. Their definition of social interaction is probably limited to within a 50-mile radius of their birthplace. It must have expanded slightly when their grand kids moved out of the state for college education and jobs. But their core group of support still remains close to the place they have lived all their lives. It is personal and tangible. But it is going to be different for their grand kids who prefer to build their social equity through social media from within their bedroom walls. Can they still reap the health benefits enjoyed by the Paytons?

As I opened the garage door, the digital clock on the dash board showed 9.30 p.m. Yet another day of coming home late from work. I am not sure if that is helping with my social connectivity. Adith came over and gave me a hug with a sweet smile. His older brother, Abel, was busy on his Facebook page, nurturing his virtual connectivity!

Dr Jame Abraham, MD, FACP, is Bonnie Wells Wilson Distinguished Professor, chief of oncology and medical director of Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, West Virginia University, USA.


Niyati Priyam said...

I dont know if it's facebook or not Vamshi. Definitely, being loved and remembered helps our system. And facebook by connecting us to our old and new friends is a great help.

But I still feel that facebook has made us too boisterous and too transparent. The system of calling up an old friend is all but dead. If mere liking a pic and commenting on a photo is how ur connected...then I would say you are still lonely. What about the times when you are lost, crying or ill...

Facebook does help build some pores in our rigid hectic life, but I dont see it as a window to connect with old mates.

Nidz said...

reminded me a story of mine in hospital and yes its so true that the hospital is last place to sleep. when u finally sleep they wake u up to check temperature to clean u and change you dressing, medicines n what not. 6AM sisters used to wake me up to clean when i could finally get some sleep of suffering in pain all night.

and yes i believe being in love, living peacefully actually makes life easier n we live longer. Our body reacts to what happens in our mind.

Unknown said...

@Niya... Yes I agree with your view.. Facebook can be a cartoon strip in your newspaper of life :)

Unknown said...

@Nidz.. Thank you for the comment. I know how you feel having faced similar troubles and now facing the advantages of being in love. Keep falling in love everyday and you would live longer :)