The Lifesaving Bond: Exploring the Crucial Role of Friendships in the Well-Being of Older Adults

In the golden years of life, the tapestry of human connections becomes even more precious. Recent studies have illuminated a profound truth: for older adults, friendships are not just a source of joy but a cornerstone of health and longevity. As caregivers and leaders in long-term care, understanding and nurturing these bonds can be a vital part of our mission.

The Science of Friendship and Health

A compelling study published in Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences reveals that friendships in older adults are linked with better physical and mental health. Analyzing surveys from nearly 13,000 individuals over 50, researchers found that high-quality friendships reduced the risk of depression by 17% and stroke by 19% and increased the likelihood of exercise by 9%​​.

Daily Interactions: A Source of Joy and Comfort

But what does it mean to have a friend in the later stages of life? A study in PubMed explored this, discovering that older adults reported more pleasantness and better mood when in contact with friends, as compared to other social partners or when alone​​. This finding is crucial for long-term care centers, where daily interactions can be intentionally crafted to promote these positive experiences.

The Dark Side of Isolation

Conversely, the absence of these connections can have dire consequences. The National Institute on Aging estimates that a quarter of older adults experience social isolation, defined as having few regular interactions and social contacts. This isolation is linked with an array of negative health outcomes, including heart disease, obesity, and depression. Alarmingly, a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that social isolation was associated with a 28% higher risk of dementia​​​​.

Balancing the Scales: The Introvert-Extrovert Spectrum

Not everyone thrives in social butterflies’ environments, and this is especially true in the diverse world of older adults. Studies show that while extroverts naturally draw energy from social interactions, introverts may not need as many interactions to feel content​​. This diversity necessitates a nuanced approach in fostering social connections within care settings.

Fostering Connections in Care Settings

What can be done in long-term care settings to cultivate these life-enhancing connections? Creating opportunities for older adults to engage in meaningful activities and conversations is a start. Whether it’s through group activities, shared meals, or simply encouraging conversations, every interaction counts.

Leveraging Technology: Bridging the Gap

In today’s digital age, technology also plays a crucial role. With many older adults embracing email, texting, and social media, these tools can serve as bridges to maintain existing relationships and forge new ones. As caregivers, facilitating access to these technologies can be a simple yet powerful way to combat isolation.

Conclusion: A Call to Action

The evidence is clear: friendships and social connections are indispensable for the well-being of older adults. As leaders and caregivers, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to foster these connections. By understanding the diverse needs of older adults and creating environments that encourage social interaction, we can not only enhance their quality of life but also potentially extend it.

In the words of William Chopik, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University, “Having good friends is associated with a whole lot of positive health behaviors and benefits”​​. Let’s take this knowledge and translate it into action, making every effort to weave a fabric of friendship and connection in the lives of those we care for.

The health and happiness of our older adults depend on it.

TL;DR: This article delves into the crucial role of friendships and social connections in the well-being and health of older adults. Highlighting recent studies, it underscores how friendships can lead to higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction, and physical health benefits, including reduced risks of depression and dementia. The article emphasizes the negative impact of social isolation and the importance of maintaining social interactions to prevent cognitive decline. It also discusses the varying needs of extroverts and introverts in social settings and suggests practical ways for long term care professionals to foster meaningful social connections among older adults. The article concludes with a call to action  to prioritize and facilitate these essential social bonds, underlining their significant role in enhancing and potentially extending the lives of older adults.

Sources:

Kim, E. S., Chopik, W. J., Chen, Y., Wilkinson, R., & VanderWeele, T. J. (2023). United we thrive: Friendship and subsequent physical, behavioural and psychosocial health in older adults (an outcome-wide longitudinal approach). Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, e65. Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/S204579602300077X . Accessed November 22, 2023.

“Friendships in Old Age: Daily Encounters and Emotional Well-Being – PubMed.” [Online]. Available: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33415901/. Accessed November 22, 2023.

“Close friends can help you live longer but they can spread some bad habits too | WGCU PBS & NPR for Southwest Florida.” [Online]. Available: https://news.wgcu.org/2023-04-05/close-friends-can-help-you-live-longer-but-they-can-spread-some-bad-habits-too. Accessed November 22, 2023.

“New research links isolation in old age to negative health outcomes | Hub.” [Online]. Available: https://hub.jhu.edu/2023/03/01/social-isolation-older-adults-dementia-risk/. Accessed November 22, 2023.

“Why Friends Are Good for Your Health and Well-Being.” [Online]. Available: AARP website or the PDF provided by the user. Accessed November 22, 2023.

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Pinterest

Subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter

Get timely and relevant industry news, research and articles delivered right to your inbox each month—exclusively for those caring for & engaging with older adults. 

Never miss an upcoming publication—drop your email below and subscribe to our Newsroom.

You might like these articles, too!

News Article
Alysia Osoff, RN, MSN

Navigating the Delicate Balance: Antihypertensive Medications and the Risk of Falls and Fractures in Older Adults

In the intricate landscape of older adult care, the management of hypertension presents a significant challenge, especially when weighed against the risks of falls and fractures. Recent studies have shed light on the delicate balance healthcare providers must maintain to safeguard the health of older adults, particularly those residing in

Read More »

Leave a Comment

Get Articles Like this Delivered to Your Inbox Every Month

Join over 2,000 readers and sign up to never miss an upcoming publication of Engaging with Aging publication.

We respect your privacy and will never rent or sell your information to third-parties.