Friendships are not a luxury.
In fact, there are 8 reasons that friends are good for seniors’ health, according to Amica Senior Living:
- Friendships are good for seniors’ physical health
- Friends help us avoid loneliness and isolation
- Social connection reduces stress and boosts cognitive health
- Strong social networks enhance your self-esteem and personal development
- Friendships can be as important as family
- Friends may encourage healthy behaviours
- Friends make us happy.
“Friendships are important for everyone, but for seniors in particular they can be a lifeline to the rest of the world,” says local REALTOR® Gwen Price, who hosts her own video/podcast Sudbury Talks with Gwen Price.
“Often seniors have lost their spouse or partner and other close family members. Friends become even more important at this time.”
Having friends that you can lean on can be especially helpful when you are experiencing grief, according to this article from Comfortkeepers.ca.
There are challenges to overcome, of course, and maintaining friendships throughout the years takes some effort.
“As we age, mobility becomes an issue, and it becomes harder and harder to connect in person with friends. Perhaps the senior no longer drives and so is restricted in their ability to gather with friends. They may need to depend on friends to come to them or to have someone drive them to meet with friends,” says Price.
Loss of hearing also leads to isolation and loneliness in seniors, as sometimes it becomes quite difficult to communicate with friends and family.
And then, well, there was COVID to contend with. “During the COVID lockdowns, it brought to the forefront the detrimental mental health effects for seniors of not getting together with family and friends, but even before COVID, it was becoming evident that seniors were at risk of social isolation and the resulting effects,” says Price. “I think the significance of friendships and the positive effects have been identified, but we still have a long way to go to help seniors avoid social isolation and strengthen their friendship bonds.”
How loved ones can help
It’s up to all of us to realize the importance of maintaining friendships in our seniors’ lives. We have to help them be able to stay connected. That could be helping them with technology, such as video chats, when they are no longer able to physically be together.
“I don't think people give seniors enough credit for using technology. A lot of my senior clients are able to use Zoom, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger to do video chats,” says the REALTOR®.
The risks of not having enough social supports
Because isolation and loneliness adversely affect seniors’ health, not having these supports leads to a shortened life, says Price.
The health effects of loneliness and social isolation are many. To date, we’ve learned that:
- People who feel alone have a significant risk of dying prematurely. This risk exceeds the risks of dying due to other major causes, such as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity
- The risk of dementia is 50% higher in people that experience social isolation
- Those who have poor social relationships in quantity or quality may have a 29% increased risk of getting heart disease and a 32% increased risk of having a stroke
- Lonely people have higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide
- Heart failure patients who admit to being lonely are four times more likely to die, have a 68% increase in hospitalizations and a 57% increase risk of emergency room visits.
How to strengthen your friendships in your senior years
Price believes it is important for seniors to reach out for help, to join community groups, to volunteer and to participate as much as possible in activities with others.
“Seniors Helping Seniors is one group that is located in Coniston, a small community that is part of the City of Greater Sudbury. This group of seniors helps provide seniors in need with fresh fruit and vegetables, maintains a community garden and watches out for each other.
Other communities would have similar groups and I think it’s important for seniors to feel they are still contributing and to also prevent isolation for participants,” she says.
On Ageing in Action, an Eastlink Community TV show that Price cohosts, they interviewed John Richer and Peter Marshall from the Parkside Centre about a new initiative called Links2WellBeing, a social prescribing program.
Primary Care Physicians and Interprofessional Health Practitioners can provide a non-clinical social prescription to the patient and email a client referral form to the Parkside Centre, where a Designated Centre Contact (DCC) connects with the older adult. The DCC assigns a Volunteer Link Ambassador (VLA) who works with the senior to identify opportunities that fit their requirements. The VLA will work with the senior and provide updates on their progress at 3, 6 and 12 months to identify if the senior has continued their participation.
Volunteering is also an excellent way for seniors to stay involved; it helps with their loneliness, but also gives them a sense of agency and satisfaction, allowing them to feel like they are contributing to the community as well.
Innumerable groups are always looking for volunteers. Volunteer Sudbury/Bénévolat Sudbury is a volunteer resource centre that acts as a link between organizations and volunteers for the enrichment of Greater Sudbury.
It’s also important to understand the difference between a friend and an acquaintance. According to socialself.com, there are 4 stages of friendship: acquaintance, casual friend, close friend and intimate friend.
“In my line of work as a REALTOR®, I have met thousands of people and not everyone I have met became a friend. Some have, but some have remained acquaintances. I’m not sure I can actually say how someone becomes my friend, but I guess for me, it is whether I feel a connection to them, that I care about what happens to them,” says Price. “I have always believed in the value of friends and although we aren’t able to be together often, my friends are always in my thoughts and I care about what happens to them, no matter where they are in the world.”
“As I approach my 70th birthday, I am reflecting on the friends I have in my life. I have a group of friends that I have now known for 60 years: Aila, Doris and Anna. We met when I moved to the outlying community of Lively; they had already been friends before I arrived, but they accepted me and brought me into their fold. We went through elementary and high school together. Through the years, we went our separate ways, got married, had kids, had careers, experienced sadness and joy. Even though we weren’t always able to be together, I knew that they always were just a phone call away.
“I have another group of friends that I met at high school and to this day, I also stay in touch with them. I have other friends that I have known for many, many years or just recently. We have met either through work, school or volunteering. It is not a regular thing, but every now and then, we get together. Busy lives prevent getting together often, but I want them to know that I think of them and care about them. Facebook has been a wonderful way for me to stay connected to my friends, to know that they are doing okay, and I am cheering them on from the sidelines.
For more information, visit Gwen Price Homes or call 705-561-2335.