Outside of family, friendships are the most important relationships we have. And as we get older, they become even more important. Friends help us feel less lonely, improve our health, and increase our sense of well-being. They can even help us live longer.
CaptionCall recognizes the value of senior friendships; read on to learn all about the benefits.
Loneliness in seniors can stem from a variety of factors. Such as the death of a spouse or close friend, children or other family members moving away, or the onset of debilitating illnesses. Additionally, being lonely can cause its own problems, including depression, cognitive decline, high blood pressure, and more.
While the loss of a spouse, loved one, or close friend can increase loneliness, having additional friendships can provide emotional support during hard times. Helping minimize the loneliness you may feel.
Fulfilling friendships in your senior years also bring the additional benefit of helping you feel connected to something bigger than yourself. Which is another thing that decreases loneliness.
Senior friendships have many health benefits! Most of them are a result of experiencing everyday connection with another person. Your friends may encourage you to give up bad habits and make healthier choices like walking or swimming more; remind you to get regular checkups; or even encourage you to discuss issues you’re facing with a doctor.
Research also shows that having close friends and a strong support network can have positive health effects on your cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and immune systems as well as inflammatory processes.
A lack of strong social support can lead to increases in depression, anxiety, cognitive decline, poor wound healing, and other adverse health issues. This means that some benefits of having senior friends reflect the opposite: feeling happier, enjoying life more, and feeling more satisfied with your relationships. And of course, being happier leads to a boost in overall well-being as we age.
Older adults with a strong network of friends are 22% less likely to die over a 10-year period. This means that having strong, meaningful friendships can literally help keep you alive.
The Social Connection
Given that friendships have proven ties to so many health benefits, ensuring you have a strong social support system and staying connected with others is vital to your overall well-being. While you may already have many friends, it’s never late to make new ones!
Maintaining Current Friendships
First, it’s important to maintain the friendships you already have. You can do this in many ways:
- Talking often — Talking regularly is one of the best ways to maintain a friendship. On top of helping you maintain relationships, the regular social interaction will do great things for your overall health.
- Going out to lunch or dinner — If phone or video calls aren’t your thing, try meeting your friends for lunch or dinner instead! Catching up and chatting over a meal can be a great way to get closer to the people you care about—and it can be very delicious. Make it a regular standing date—say, every Tuesday—and give yourself a wonderful thing to look forward to each week.
- Volunteering together — Serving others is both a great way to spend your time and a great way to get to know others. There’s something about a hard day’s work that brings people together. Grab one of your friends and volunteer for an organization or cause that you both care about. It’ll be rewarding in more ways than one!
- Scheduling vacations together — Sometimes, a little change of scenery goes along way for a friendship. If you’ve got the travel bug, set up a trip with your friends. As you experience new things together, you’ll form new, lasting memories that will only strengthen your friendship.
Making New Friends
For older adults that have retired and live alone, it might seem difficult to meet new people and develop friendships; however, there are many ways to put yourself out there and find new friends. Some options include:
- Volunteering — Do you have a passion for pets? Maybe you want to put your gardening skills to use for other people? Perhaps helping at the library, surrounded by people and books all day, is something you’d enjoy? Put your talents and passions to good use by volunteering at an organization in your community. This way, you give back and meet new friends at the same time!
- Taking a class — It’s never too late to learn a new skill or perfect an old one! In your free time, you can take classes on anything from painting to knitting. Or you can even learn a new language and try a dance class. As you meet and get to know your classmates, you can start to form bonds with people who share your interests.
- Joining a gym — Going to the gym isn’t just good for your health; try attending group fitness classes or chatting up the person next to you on the elliptical. Whether you love fitness or have to force yourself to work out, you’re bound to find someone who feels the same way. And that person may just become your after-gym smoothie partner!
- Getting out of the house — The best way to meet new people is to make sure you’re out and about, mixing with others. Staying home every day closes you off from opportunities to socialize and potentially make friends. Even simple things like walking around your neighborhood, visiting a park, or playing a round of golf can help you meet new people.
- Getting involved with your church — If you’re part of a religious community, there’s a good chance you can find friends within it. Attending worship services and church-sponsored activities—or even volunteering your time to the organization—can open the door to making new friends.
- Joining social media — Social media isn’t just for the younger generations; Facebook and other social apps are great places for people of all ages to connect with friends far and wide. You can join groups based on your interests, reconnect with old friends, and stay in touch with family when you join social media.
- Finding a part-time job — If you still have the ability and desire to work, a part-time job can be a great way to mingle with others. From coworkers to customers, there are countless options for making friends in the workplace.
Staying Connected with Friends
The best way for friendships to survive and thrive is to stay connected. Whether your friends live down the hall, across the street, or on the other side of the country, you can find ways to do it.
Schedule visits, make monthly lunch a regular occurrence, or even just talk for hours on the phone. Ultimately, you just need to set the priority to make time for your friendships to truly experience the health benefits such connections can bring.