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  • Writer's pictureKate Bradshaw

Social Seniors: The Importance of Friendship

There is nothing more valuable in life than good friends.

No matter how old you are, we all need human contact – it’s key to our well-being.

Friendship transcends money, status, and reputation and while friendship is important at every stage in life, it is especially vital in later years.

By staying in touch and sharing experiences with others, it makes it possible for seniors to remain active, mentally alert, and connected to life. Without a friend or close relative to provide support, seniors can shut down emotionally, mentally and physically, especially if they are dealing with health issues, have lost a spouse, or are coping with new found feelings of depression or loneliness.

Shutting down can create feelings of isolation which can lead to poor mental health and feelings of depression. Having friends and being social have many mental health benefits because the brain thrives on activity and stimulation, and withers without it. So seeing other people, whether that is at a spin class, a yoga seminar, computer lessons, or just a regular lunch, forces the brain to be active. It creates new patterns in the week and new responsibilities. It creates new social engagements. It can make you try new things and that’s always healthy.

Making the brain work doesn’t just fend off dementia and Alzheimer’s. It makes it stronger and more flexible, helping you continue a lifetime of learning. Making plans and figuring out activities keeps the brain strong, like working out. And the more social engagements you have, the more likely you are to take care of yourself and maintain proper hygiene, a clean home, maybe plants for when friends drop by. That has been shown to fight off depression.

Social activities have another added benefit: it lets you feel cared for and supported. You are not just practising empathy; others are practising it toward you. You are being seen as another person, and not just a lingering shadow. The other side of that is that you are caring and supporting other people as well. You’re giving them that gift, just as you are getting it. Both sides of this are important for people to feel valued, safe, and filled with purpose.

Socialisation, of course, often involves physical activity as well. When you are moving, you are getting exercise, even when exercise isn’t your intent. Just the act of getting up and doing things can make you stronger, which boosts the immune system and helps prevent osteoporosis.

There are many ways that seniors can maintain late-in-life friendships these days, even if mobility or transportation is an issue. Seniors can meet up at regular local events at community centres, libraries, churches, or other community facilities. They can arrange to go for daily or weekly outings with their loved ones or they can put together a hobby or activities group based around mutual interests such as reading, music, art, and handicrafts. Scheduling regular social events, something that establishes a routine, is great for seniors and provides them with something to look forward to.

There are also a number of modern technologies that seniors can use to their advantage. Aside from phone calls with friends, seniors can participate in social media, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and other online channels and communities. Communication tools such as Skype video enable seniors to see who they’re talking with, making it a more personal and enjoyable connection. By seeing and hearing the other person or persons, seniors can better enjoy visiting with grandchildren, old classmates, and friends across the country and even the globe.

Without the pleasure of friendship, socialisation, and human contact, it becomes harder for elderly adults to find purpose and passion in daily living. If your ageing parent or someone you know is without regular social interaction and having a hard time maintaining friendships as they grow older, consider helping them by presenting some activity options or even suggesting a caregiver.

If you’re the child or grandchild of a senior, your busy schedule might make it challenging for you to visit your loved one. However, it’s important to realise that your visits – however brief and sporadic they may be – can make a world of difference. Likewise, visits from a volunteer or a caregiver, and the companionship they provide, can brighten an elder’s day. Those hour or two visits can fill a void for a senior who may have difficulty getting out of their home for socialising.

It’s easy to underestimate how friendship and companionship can mean the difference between joy and sadness in someone’s life. It might help to remember this famous quote about happiness: “It has been said that we need three things in life – something to do, something to look forward to, and someone to love.” Having friends can fulfil all three

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