Friendship is important at any age, but to seniors it can be even more vital. According to the AARP, friendships improve functioning more than familial ties, with long time friendships the most valuable. New friends can, however, be just as important, especially as ties from one's youth move away or, worse, die. For too many seniors, however, social isolation has become a significant problem; even before the pandemic, isolation and related mental health issues were a crisis that needed to be addressed, and prolonged physical distancing has only made it worse.
Why do Friends Matter?
Family often end up in more of a caregiver role. Friends, on the other hand, especially peer friends of a similar age, support healthy aging and help you live better. There are a number of ways in which they help:
- Doing things with friends encourages seniors to get and stay more physically active.
- Friends who share good health habits, such as healthy eating and avoiding large amounts of alcohol provide a peer influence towards better habits.
- Friends keep seniors from becoming isolated, which leads to significant mental health problems.
- Friendships ensure regular communication, which can slow cognitive decline.
Seniors tend to have fewer friends than younger people, but to invest more in those friendships. Strong friendships reduce stress (while conflict can increase it).
How To Sustain Friendships As You Age
Getting older inevitably means people drift apart physically. Friends might decide to move to a better climate for their health, but family ties make it hard for you to follow them. Or you might move closer to family and away from your long-term friends. Technology offers a good solution to this problem, and one side effect of the pandemic has been a greater comfort in the use of tools such as video conferencing. More and more older people are regularly using Facebook to stay in touch and exchange pictures.
For those who have less familial support, moving to be closer to friends is always an option.
How To Create New Friendships
As your life changes, you might also realize that you need to create and nurture new friendships to replace ones which have been damaged by physical or emotional distance. There are some good ways to seek new friendships, which include:
- Be active in your religious community, if you have one.
- Take a class or join a group activity at a community college or senior center. You are never too old to learn a new skill. If you have a skill, such as years of experience knitting, you might even volunteer to teach a class.
- Find local volunteer opportunities, both physical and virtual. (Virtual volunteer opportunities are the rule during the pandemic, but may stay a good option afterwards for those with impaired mobility).
- Join a book, movie, or video club.
- Move to a senior living community.
For seniors who are at risk of becoming isolated, moving to an independent or assisted living community can in fact be the best way to find and nurture new friends. These communities offer a variety of activities that allow seniors with similar interests to meet and potentially develop relationships. While some of these have been curtailed for public health reasons, as more and more seniors are vaccinated, physical activities and communal dining will return.
For more information on Sarasota Bay Club, our community, or independent living, contact us today.