There is nothing like a friend. Friends accept each other for who they are, provide companionship, and enjoy many of the same activities. We all need someone to laugh or cry with, and who will give us an honest opinion. Countless studies agree that friendship is essential for good health and emotional well-being.
When young, most people’s days and nights are generally full with any number of friends, from school pals to kids in the neighborhood.
In college, you are placed in another social setting where you interact with people interested in the same things you are. Post college, jobs and married life present still more opportunities to make friends. There is so much to do and so many people to see. Life is full.
However, as the years go by, the number of ready opportunities to make new friends declines as children grow older, friends and family members move, and retirement age draws near.
The thought of pursuing new friendships may seem daunting but cracking open even one opportunity to make a friend can produce a kind of reverse Pandora’s box effect of joy and connectedness, and yes, hope, too! It’s important to keep an open mind to finding and developing new friendships.
Friendships often develop around shared interests and repeated contact, so whether it’s through volunteer activities, an exercise class, book group or lecture series, there are people out there looking to expand their social circle.
Some people choose to go back to school. Many colleges offer courses that can be taken without credit for a small fee. Retirement can be a great time to learn more about music history, English literature or astronomy.
Besides learning something new and stimulating your brain, as an added bonus you’ll meet people of all ages who are interested in the same topic. It’s healthy for seniors to interact with people from different generations, and a college campus can be the perfect venue for striking up a friendship.
Some school districts offer continuing education classes frequented by members of the community. These classes can range from cooking, art appreciation/painting, tai chi, yoga, computer basics and more.
For those who have trouble getting out of the house, social media can provide a wonderful way to connect with people. More and more seniors are active on Facebook and other social media platforms.
These social media connections can help you reconnect and stay in touch with friends and family who may have moved away, and strengthen a connection with a niece, nephew or grandchild. Sharing photos and live video with your family isn’t as good as being with them, but it’s a close second. It’s important to be very cautious when interacting with people on social media.
Never give personal, bank or credit card information to anyone that you’ve met online, and any suspicious behavior should be reported immediately.
Consider Community Living
Many older adults find a host of new friends when they relocate to a retirement community. At Jefferson’s Ferry, for example, residents can be as involved in community life as much as they like, with many opportunities to serve on committees, take educational or fitness classes, volunteer, perform or enjoy dining with friends.
Many residents share their knowledge or skills with their neighbors, leading classes and workshops.
Jefferson’s Ferry has been selected to take part in a five year Age Well Study that will look at the effects of life plan community living on the long-term health and wellness of residents.
Life plan community living allows older adults to age in place with a continuum of care that encompasses independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing as needed in an all-inclusive plan.
Jefferson’s Ferry is one of 80 life plan communities across the nation whose residents have volunteered to be surveyed over that period of time. Overall 5,100 life plan community residents are expected to participate.
The study will measure the self-reported health and wellness of resident volunteers through a survey administered every year of the study. This data will be compared to data collected from older adults who do not live in life plan communities.
Initial results of the survey show that 69 percent of residents reported that moving to a Life Plan Community “somewhat or greatly improved” their social wellness and healthy behaviors and they tend to have greater emotional, social, physical, intellectual, and vocational wellness than their counterparts outside of Life Plan Communities.
If you need further encouragement to get out there and make friends, you should know that socially isolated individuals face health risks comparable to those of smokers, according to the Stanford Center on Longevity’s Sightlines Project, and their mortality risk is twice that of obese individuals. So open your mind to the possibility of new friendships, and stay positive. You may not become friends with everyone you meet, but maintaining a friendly attitude and demeanor can help you connect with others. You might just meet your new best friend!
Linda Kolakowski is Vice President of Resident Life at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community. www.jeffersonsferry.org