Having strong relationships with others is essential at any age and a major factor in one’s overall level of happiness. However, as we age, it becomes more difficult to maintain relationships and form new ones. The death of a spouse affects several relationships as the living spouse loses connections with shared friends and must now relearn how to socialize as a single individual.
Retirement weakens friendships with previous coworkers and the reduced amount of incoming money makes it more challenging to afford recreational activities. Adult children move away and you must find other ways to keep in touch. It’s estimated as much as 40% of adults over age 64 may be chronically lonely, even if they are married or in a committed relationship. Clearly, seniors are at an increased risk to not have enough meaningful relationships, but you may wonder why this is such a serious issue.
Why is it important for older adults to maintain relationships as they age? Not only do relationships make you happier, but they can also make you healthier. Friendships especially, since they are relationships we choose, can improve our health. Adults are 10% to 22% more likely to get various health screenings if they are encouraged by their friends. These screenings help detect issues early on so they can be treated more easily.No matter whether your closest relationships are friends or family members, having strong social ties can increase your lifespan. A nine-year study conducted in California with nearly 7,000 individuals found people with more social links live longer even when taking into account socioeconomic status, alcohol and cigarette consumption, exercise levels, and obesity. The men with the fewest social ties, compared to those with the most, had a 2.3 times higher mortality rate. Women had a 2.8 times higher mortality rate if they had few social connections.
Maintaining strong relationships as you age can help you stay mentally healthy as well. The Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago discovered very social seniors had a 70% lower cognitive decline rate than their less social peers. Interactions with others aid in reducing depression as well as keeping you mentally sharp. Conversations stimulate your mind in ways that can’t be achieved when you’re in isolation. Social relationships can also reduce stress, which is positive for both your mental and physical health. A study conducted in Hong Kong found relationships reduced cortisol levels throughout the day.
How can you maintain relationships as you age?
Even people in middle age often consider it difficult to keep as many close relationships as they would prefer. For some people, the struggle begins even younger when they are no longer in constant proximity with peers for high school or college classes. Luckily, it’s possible to make new friends and nurture current relationships more no matter what age you are.
For those still in the workforce, realize relationships with coworkers will dwindle once you retire if you haven’t established relationships with them outside of work. If there are any coworkers you hope to maintain long-term friendships with, consider spending time with them outside of work. That way, you’ll have a stronger bond than just proximity once retirement arrives.
But don’t rely entirely on work friends to satisfy your relationship needs. Expand your social circle by chatting with neighbors, joining clubs, volunteering, and checking out local events and celebrations. If you have grandchildren, babysitting is a win-win situation that helps you bond with family while at the same time saving your children money. Your adult children will appreciate it and might be able to run errands for you in exchange. If you’re married, give your spouse proper attention and make him or her feel appreciated.
Some older adults avoid attending social events because of health or money issues. For example, if you have incontinence, you might choose to stay home rather than risk having an accidental leak in front of people. There are a variety of ways to lessen your incontinence, but a quick fix for social outings is to wear incontinence products such as adult diapers or incontinence pads.
These types of products make leaks unnoticeable to others so you can focus on conversations and not on if your clothing looks wet. If money is tight, research what locations near you have senior discounts. You may be surprised to find out how common they are, especially if you’re flexible with which days of the week you’re available to socialize. Remember, not all of your interactions have to be in person. Statistics from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project shows that individuals aged 74 and older are the quickest growing group on online social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Phone calls are still a great way to communicate as well, especially now that video chatting is accessible on more devices. Although it might feel old-fashioned, many people still appreciate the effort that goes into physical letters as well. For a variety of reasons, older individuals can find maintaining relationships to be a challenge. However, keeping strong relationships is crucial for your mind, your body, and your overall happiness. Focus on having a wide array of connections from family to friendships to a romantic partner to coworkers and more. Mix up your means of communication as well. See people face-to-face, make phone calls, and connect over social platforms. Make an effort to stay in touch with others now and you’ll be grateful you did later.