Thank You For Being A Friend: The Important Role Close Connections Play In Senior Health

Friendship Day falls in the month of August, and it is an apt reminder of the vital role that friendships play in our happiness, self-esteem, and emotional/physical wellbeing throughout every stage of our life. It has been scientifically proven through a myriad of social studies that people with strong connections to family, friends, and their community are happier, healthier, and living longer. It has even been found that healthy social ties can have a more prominent effect on longevity of life than other healthy living practices, such as eating well and exercising.

Unfortunately, maintaining strong social bonds can become more challenging as we age for a variety of reasons. As we get older, we become more likely to suffer the loss of a spouse and/or other highly valued loved ones, and the severance of such important bonds can be emotionally devastating. Seniors are also more likely to have a decrease in daily social interaction as they age due to factors like retirement or the inability to get around as well as they used to because of driving or health reasons. The social changes that can come about as a result of aging lead to an increased sense of loneliness and isolation that can have very negative effects on a senior’s health.

As an assisted living and memory care provider, we can cite numerous health benefits of becoming part of a senior living community. The security, comfort, and convenience assisted living provides are all compelling reasons to consider senior living options- however, we find the SOCIAL benefits our communities offer to seniors to undoubtedly be the most impactful on their lives and wellbeing. From our ladies that meet to play bridge every afternoon, to our energetic Walking Club, to our group of gentlemen that rise early every morning to debate the morning’s news over a cup of coffee- it is so gratifying to witness our residents develop the bonds that turn them from acquaintances to friends to family.

“There is no question that social connection plays a huge role in the health and happiness of our residents,” states Nancy McAllister, Assisted Living Executive Director at Bay Cove Assisted Living & Memory Care in Biloxi, MS. “I have seen numerous cases of a resident joining our community shortly following the loss of a spouse- they are often sad, frail, and experiencing depression or other physical or emotional issues. Within a few months, they have done a 180- with the help of new friends and the opportunity to take part in our active community scene, they are laughing, interacting, and finding joy and purpose in life again.”

However, becoming part of a community is far from being the only way for seniors to stay socially connected. Other tips to build and maintain strong social ties include:

-Find a new club or organization to become part of. Do you love gardening? Contact your local Garden Club about becoming a member! Are you an avid reader? Check out book clubs in your area online! Are you passionate about your faith? Seek out new opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals by trying a new Bible study in your area. Whatever your passion, there is sure to be a new outlet that will help you connect with new people and renew your sense of purpose. If you have trouble driving, see if you can carpool with a group member that lives close by- or simply catch a Lyft!

-Pick up the phone. Is there a friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with or reconnect with? A family member you haven’t talked to in a while? There’s no time like the present! In today’s hyper-busy world, we often feel like taking the time to connect over the phone or a cup of coffee to be a “bother” or an infringement on the other person’s time- yet the most reported regret of older individuals is letting hectic lives allow them to lose touch with valued friends. Be the person who bridges the gap – that fostered connection can lead to planning outings and trips that will allow you to create wonderful new experiences and memories together.

-Smile at a stranger. Meeting new people can feel daunting, but something as simple as exchanging smiles and pleasantries with the person standing next to you in line at the grocery store can positively effect your mood and your emotional wellbeing. And who knows – that person standing next to you in line just might be your future BFF. You’ll never know until you smile and say hello!

As the Golden Girls taught us, friendship is the glue that holds us together during the tough times – so make sure you’re prioritizing your health by being a friend!