Staying connected is good for your health
Some tips to nurture relationships and foster new ones
By Lisa M. Petsche
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Research has shown that healthy relationships help to maintain physical, mental and emotional well-being, not only enhancing quality of life but also contributing to longevity.
As people age, however, their social network typically diminishes, due to retirement, relocation and relatives and friends moving away or passing on. Preoccupation with health issues or caring for an aging relative may also cause relationships to slide. All too easily social isolation may result. This separation from others fosters loneliness and may precipitate depression.
It is therefore particularly important during one’s mature years to nurture relationships – a vital source of pleasure, validation and practical support – and, if need be, forge new ones. Here are some ideas for how to go about this.
- Get out around people every day. To combat isolation, join a dinner club, fitness center or bowling league. Or head to an indoor mall that has a morning walking program.
- Sign up for an adult education course or lessons that interest you—for example, gourmet cooking, pottery or line dancing. Be sure to check out available programs at the local senior center or recreation center as well as those offered by educational institutions. Learning something new will energize you and boost your self-confidence, and you might make new friends in the process.
- Get involved in your community. Volunteer for a neighborhood association, charitable or environmental cause, animal shelter or political campaign. If you belong to a faith community, join the choir or a social club, or volunteer for a committee.
- Attend school, workplace and other types of reunions whenever an opportunity arises. Better yet, offer to help organize such an event. You might rekindle some old friendships.
- Take the initiative and invite friends over. Don’t wait for them to call or drop in. Some ideas for activities: Try out a new recipe, watch a movie, work on a challenging jigsaw puzzle, or play card games or board games.
- Organize among your friends a weekly coffee time (at a centrally located coffee shop or rotating in participants’ homes) or a monthly lunch or dinner date (for example, the first Friday of every month). This ensures you get together regularly and gives you something to look forward to.
- Keep in touch with out-of-area loved ones though phone calls (find a good long-distance savings plan), letters, e-mail or instant online messaging.
- If it’s hard to get out or you’re shy, meet new people with similar interests through Internet social networking sites aimed at seniors.
- Get to know neighbors. An evening stroll is one way to do this. You might begin a conversation, for example, by complimenting a neighbor on their home’s curb appeal or inquiring about a plant in their garden.
- Do nice things for others, especially those who are going through a difficult time. This takes your mind off your own situation, boosts your self-esteem and strengthens relationships.
- If you are recently widowed, join a support group to connect with others who understand what you’re going through. Information on relevant groups can be obtained from the local community information service or office on aging. If it’s hard to get out or you prefer anonymity, Internet message boards, chat rooms and discussion forums are some alternatives.
- Get a portable phone so you don’t miss calls and can multi-task if necessary while conversing. Or get an answering machine so friends can leave messages when you’re not available.
- Be flexible when invitations, including last-minute ones, come your way. Don’t keep a rigid routine that limits your availability for socializing.
- Get a pet. Cats and dogs provide companionship and affection and give you a sense of purpose. A dog also ensures you’ll get out of the house. And while walking it, you might meet new friends.
- If you don’t have grandchildren or they live far away, find out from your local office on aging if there’s an Adopt-a-Grandparent program that pairs youth with older adults for regular socializing.
- Cultivate some solitary pastimes – such as scrapbooking, woodworking, gardening, writing or sketching. Hobbies not only enable you to enjoy your own company but also give you something to talk about in social situations.
- If you live alone and don’t like it, consider taking in a boarder, sharing accommodations with a relative or friend, or moving to a senior living community.
Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in health and elder care issues.