Friends are a precious commodity for us all, but especially for seniors. The love and companionship we enjoy with our friends make our lives emotionally richer, and research now shows that our friends can be powerful allies in helping us increase our longevity. For instance, data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Aging has shown that people age 70 or older with active social lives live 22% longer than those with less active social lives.
The reality is most adults have fewer friendships as they grow older, even though maintaining and nurturing friendships at this older stage in life is more important than ever. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health suggested that socially active seniors had a slower rate of memory decline than did their more isolated peers.
According to Hebrew SeniorLife Chief Medical Officer Geriatrician Dr. Helen Chen, isolation can be a major problem as people get older, which can lead to depression as well as declining physical and cognitive function in some older adults. She believes the keys to a longer life are staying socially active, physically healthy and mentally engaged. Community, said Chen, is especially important as people get older because it provides an opportunity for seniors to continue to grow and flourish, make new friends and develop new skills and interests.
This year, HSL’s senior communities are celebrating the powerful role of friendship in positively impacting the physical, mental and emotional health of all seniors.
HSL’s “Power of Friendship” video series tells the stories of the many types of friendships that knit our communities together. Residents shared their personal stories to tell us how their special relationships with peers have enriched and enhanced their lives. After viewing each video it’s evident that our communities are hubs for people to engage and form many friendships. There’s always someone to meet with similar likes and interests, from jewelry making to museum visits, bonding over social networking, or the latest tai chi techniques, residents’ shared interests and interest in each other often leads to a wider circle of meaningful friendships in the community.
For seniors living alone at home it’s vital, particularly in the winter months, to seek out socialization whether through family or friends. Adult children can support their parents in their efforts to visit with family and sustain old friendships. They can also attend local adult day health programs such as those run by Hebrew SeniorLife in Roslindale and Brighton to make new friends.
Check with your local Council Of Aging for activities where older adults can meet and make new friends. And don’t forget multigenerational friendships. There are many opportunities to work with schools and students or younger volunteers who will appreciate an older adult’s special knowledge and talents.
Remember to be a friend to the seniors in your life. Take the time to visit with them, converse and provide entertaining outings or day trips when possible. The benefits of friendship are truly great for all generations and ages.
Visit www.hslindependentliving.org to see our video stories of friendship.
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