The Importance of Relationship Building for Senior Health
No matter your age or life stage, making new friends can be challenging. As we age, the opportunities to meet and connect with new people dwindle, leaving us hanging onto a handful of true friends we've made throughout the years. After retiring, our loved ones experience these issues just like we do, except they have added challenges.
As seniors age, so do their lifelong friends. Some might retire and move far away, some may begin experiencing medical issues which prevent them from socializing like they once did, while others sadly might not be around anymore. Feelings of isolation and loneliness can begin to creep in, and our older relatives might be left struggling with these emotions.
It's important for caretakers and relatives to be aware of social opportunities for our aging loved ones, because they can help improve emotional and physical well-being. In our busy lives, we might not pause long enough to realize this, but relationship building for senior health is vital.
Improves Mental Health
When we hear words like “depression” come up, it is often in a conversation about younger people – particularly teens. Compounding the issue, we often think of the retirement years as a happy time; something a person looks forward to throughout their entire career. Perhaps it is for these reasons that depression in seniors can sometimes go unrecognized, but it's a real issue faced by many people.
The loss of someone close might also represent the loss of many social opportunities and support. Without their familiar social structure in place, seniors can sometimes default to simply spending more and more time alone. This inactivity and isolation will soon lead to a real depression, and that can begin to compromise their overall health.
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Sometimes, seniors simply need the opportunities to meet new people. Good friends and neighbors can mean many things to an older person: chances to leave the house, trusted people to call when they're in a pinch, more opportunities for physical activity, and sharing books, games or conversations which can help keep them mentally sharp.
In fact, studies show that seniors who have strong social connections are 70% less likely to experience cognitive decline than those who remain isolated. Alzheimer's is often a looming concern for many caretakers, but you can help avoid it by providing a more social environment for your loved one.
Lastly, let's not overlook the benefits of a little self-confidence. Friends can encourage you to try new things, remind you of how important you are, and teach you about the world around you. They take you out of your old routines and introduce some fun into your life. All of this adds up to a greater sense of belonging. We all want that feeling in our lives, whether we're 2 or 102.
Improves Physical Health
For seniors, complications can arise from a lack of physical activity including muscle and bone loss, fatigue, loss of balance, lower stamina, lower mood, changes in weight, and poor circulation. Caretakers understand this, but many struggle to find ways to meet these needs for their senior loved ones. Making social connections can help.
Try looking at it this way: when a person feels isolated or blocked out from social activities, they tend to do less. If there's nobody to visit, why go for a walk in the first place? A table for one is pretty lonely, so why not just take all your meals at home? The fewer friends, the fewer reasons to go out; it's easy for some seniors to get caught in this downward spiral.
Think of how much physical exercise you get out of a simple afternoon at the mall. You're walking, climbing stairs, you're changing in and out of clothes in dressing rooms, and you're carrying bags. Something as simple as this could have a very positive impact on the physical health of your aging loved ones. It helps with everything from balance to circulation.
Of course, when friends encourage one another, you're more likely to see seniors taking the extra step and exercising (whether they know it or not) more. Even just meeting up for a morning walk with a group of friends can have far-reaching health benefits. We all know that staying active is better for us, and that's true no matter your age.
Here's another interesting fact: adults are between 10 and 22 percent more likely to get the recommended health screenings if their friends encourage them. This means that bigger health issues can be detected early, and treated with higher rates of success.
Physical health is usually one of the main concerns for caretakers, and there's no doubt that it's a big job. Making sure the senior in your life gets exercise, fresh air, and all their recommended tests can take up a lot of time. But if these activities become a natural part of their social circle, that removes some of the stress associated with caring for older relatives.
Caregivers are often so wrapped up in the day-to-day tasks of helping their loved ones that they miss out on the meaningful connections they could be making. There can be so much to do between household chores, medical appointments, and grocery shopping that you hardly ever have a chance to simply enjoy the relationship you have. Remember that caregivers and family members are part of a senior's social circle too.
Helping your loved ones expand their social horizons now is every bit as important as it was for them in grade school. We never grow out of our need for good friends and confidants. Friends and neighbors are the village we build around ourselves, and you are a part of that structure. For some great ideas on how to help facilitate better social connections for the seniors in your life, please download our free e-book titled “82 Meaningful Visits.” Make the most of the relationship you have with your loved one, and help them build new connections to keep them happy and healthy for a long time.
About Chelsea Sayegh
I started working as a Marketing Coordinator for United Methodist Homes in October of 2016. I work on public relations, website management and community planning for their award winning independent and assisted living communities. As a graduate of Ursinus College with a degree in Media and Communications and a passion for serving nonprofits, United Methodist Homes has become my home away from home. I spend my days working in a community filled with smiling faces, helpful hands and wonderful residents. I have a passion for assisting seniors and take great pride in being able to promote a company with such a positive mission and values. As an individual committed to learning and growing, I have jumped right into this exciting career!
Our Blog is a 2016 Platinum Generations Award Winner! The Generations Award is an annual international competition for excellence in senior marketing recognizing professionals who have communicated to the 50+ Mature Markets.