As we age, the need for strong social connections does not weaken; in fact, having a strong social support network is crucial to healthy ageing. No matter how old we are, we all need to feel that we matter to others and acknowledge that others matter to us. An indisputable connection exists between healthy friendships and a satisfying life. While everyone’s need for social interaction may ebb and flow over the years, having at least one good friend is essential as we move from the middle years into older adulthood.
Nature of friendships changes as you grow older
As we grow older, life events may affect the size of our friendship circles and support networks. Friendship circles undergo the greatest amount of transition during the final third of our lives. Luckily, support network size doesn’t matter. Whether you have just one good friend or one hundred friends, nourishing relationships will positively influence your wellbeing. Smaller friendship circles also yield fewer opportunities for interpersonal conflict.
As we age, we also value more strongly those friends who are similar to us in terms of beliefs, morals and spiritual practices. We prefer to be in the company of those who share our experiences and perspectives. Just knowing that you are a part of a social support network enhances your self-esteem—after all, a sense of belonging, at any age, helps you feel that your life matters and has value.
Whether you have just one good friend or one hundred friends, nourishing relationships will positively influence your wellbeing
Design your own friendscape
The term “friendscape” describes the nature of a person’s friendship connections. In the landscape of our relationships, we consider some relationships to be lifelong or perennial, whereas other relationships seem more seasonal. Older adults typically fall into one of the three categories of friendscapers:
- the independent friend, who doesn’t feel the need for deep relationships and tends toward activity-centred friendships;
- the discerning friend, who invests energy into a small number of high quality relationships; and
- the acquisitive friend, who enjoys and nourishes friendships from years past, but continues to add to her social circle.
Regardless of which type of friendscape you design, the most important aspect is your satisfaction in your social networks. Nurturing social relationships ensures a healthier and more satisfying life, regardless of age. Making room for relationships in our lives is one of the easiest ways to preserve our emotional, cognitive, spiritual and physical wellbeing.
Just knowing that you are a part of a social support network enhances your self-esteem
Tips for finding new friends
- Investigate the resources in your community. Your city or town may have a centre that hosts activities for senior citizens.
- Volunteer for causes that are important to you, whether it’s helping out at a children’s centre, delivering meals to the infirm, or shelving books at the library. You will benefit from interacting with others who have similar interests.
- Attend senior programmes for exercise and fitness at community centres. If you are not yet in shape, these programmes will help you become more active.
- If you are a caregiver for a relative, seek out caregiver support groups. Connecting with others dealing with similar struggles can be an emotional and social lifesaver even if your obligations limit your interactions primarily to telephone or email.
- Get to know your neighbours. Take some time out of your day to interact with them. If they work, ask them what would be a suitable time to visit them at home or for them to come over to your house.
- If you attend religious services, get involved in group meetings or classes.
- Seek out volunteer groups that visit people who are homebound. Either join the group as a volunteer or ask to be put on their visitation list.
Tips for maintaining friendships
- Share confidences with new friends. As you get older and friends move away or pass away, it’s important to develop new relationships in which you can be intimate and honest about yourself and your life.
- If you live alone and you have other friends in the same situation, organise regular group gatherings.
- Find mutually enjoyable activities to do together. Create a book club, visit museums, or take adult education classes together. Stay connected through shared experiences.
- When first connecting with new friends, pay attention to their likes, dislikes and what’s important to them.
- Introduce new friends to current friends so that the community of older adults can be more closely connected.
- Telephone friends instead of waiting for them to call you.
- Learn to use a computer or smartphone to better stay in touch with others.
- Carry a camera with you wherever you go and take pictures of events and friends. It’s a great way to create and cherish memories.
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