There are many opportunities to cultivate friendships in schools, camps, and clubs as children and young adults. However, making and maintaining new friendships can become increasingly difficult as we age. This year the onset of the coronavirus pandemic has understandably exacerbated the situation. While many adults experience difficulty in making new friends, the importance of socialization actually increases with age. In fact, according to a study published in the US National Library of Medicine, “Having close social ties is not always considered to be an important health behavior, however, studies have revealed that the effects of close social relationships on health carry the same magnitude comparable to or greater than that of such well-established risk factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity and physical inactivity.”
Both loneliness and social isolation are serious public health concerns that affect many older adults. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reported that more than one-third of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. Long-term isolation and loneliness can actually cause a number of negative health issues, such as the increased risk of mortality, depression, cognitive decline, dementia, and high blood pressure. However, these risk factors dramatically decrease when we prioritize and nurture healthy relationships, and living in a senior living community offers programs to make a big difference
While socializing with friends feels enjoyable at the moment, these activities actually have lasting positive effects on our health and well-being. Research shows that maintaining an active social life can impact us in many ways:
• Live longer– According to an article published by Harvard’s School of Public Health, people with strong social connections and relationships may live longer than those without. In fact, studies show that those who are isolated face a 50% greater risk of premature death than those with strong connections.
• Improve physical and mental health- Engaging with others can help strengthen the immune system, allowing the body to fight off physical illnesses while also decreasing feelings of depression and loneliness.
• Lower risk of dementia– Studies have shown that increased social interaction helps prevent feelings of isolation, stress and loneliness, all of which contribute to cognitive decline.
• Improve brain function– When we socialize with others, our brains become stimulated, which helps improve our cognitive abilities and keep our brains sharp and agile.
• Increase the quality of life– When we have meaningful relationships and friends, we love to spend time with, our lives improve. Friendships can help us find renewed meaning and purpose in life.
Many older adults find it difficult to make new friends in their later years. One of the most common ways for adults to meet new people and establish friendships is through their workplace. For many retired individuals, the difficulty isn’t in maintaining a relationship, it’s in finding new people to meet. It can be especially challenging for adults who move away after retirement or choose to relocate for parts of the year. Before retirement, many individuals are preoccupied with raising their families, or feel like their social circles are already well established.
However, many individuals in their retirement have more time to commit to meeting new people. According to a study from the University of Kansas, in order to form a friendship, two people have to spend at least 90 hours together. Now that you have the time to invest in new relationships, the next step is to think about what kind of friends you want to have in your life.
Finding new friends can feel awkward, especially when you put too much pressure on yourself. The best way to meet new people is to seek out new opportunities. If you’re ready to meet new people, here are a few tips to get you started:
Start with a smile – there’s no harm at approaching this in the most positive way possible. Put a smile on your face, say hello to strangers, compliment them on their outfit, or find a way to engage over a shared experience.
Invest in your acquaintances– It might sound unnatural at first, but you might consider writing down a list of people you know that you would like to know better. Think back to people you volunteer with, your neighbors you don’t know that well, or even friends of existing friends. There can be a lot of potential for friendship in people you already know. Once you have a list of these people, invite them over for lunch, play cards, or participate in one of your favorite hobbies. Most people are open to new friendships!
Join clubs for groups with people of similar interests– Think about the friends you already have. Where did you meet them? What do you have in common? More often than not, we make friendships based on commonalities. If you enjoy crafting or gardening, you might consider seeking out new group opportunities in your area such as a gardening club or crafting group. Book clubs or an exercise class can also give you the opportunity to connect. According to research by Rush University Medical Center – reading will also help lower anxiety and could reduce your risk of developing dementia.
Join a community center– Recreation centers offer wonderful opportunities to meet new people. Most recreation or senior centers offer group exercise classes, and activities, and some even host parties. Depending on your location, you might be able to join for free or pay a small fee for membership. If this intimidates you, you might consider inviting a friend or family member to accompany you.
Practice starting conversations– Even if you have plenty of experience with people, starting a conversation can be a bit intimidating. However, if you start the conversation first, more likely than not, you will make the other person feel more comfortable. Unleash your curiosity and ask questions that help you get to know the other person.
Find ways to learn– An active mind is a happy mind! When we find new ways to engage our brains, we strengthen our cognitive functions. Learning is also a great way to meet new people. Most universities offer educational opportunities for older adults such as auditing classes of interest.
Volunteer– Before retirement, you might have felt too busy to volunteer at your favorite charities or for causes close to your heart. However, now might be a great time to volunteer and meet new people while doing it. Choose something you want to do consistently that allows you to come more than one time.
While making friends in your later years comes with its own set of challenges, Maplewood Senior Living makes it easy for our residents to build friendships with one another. Social outings and various activities occur multiple times a day, giving each resident an opportunity to learn new things while meeting new people. Many of our residents find their social calendars full each day with everything from exercise classes to movies, or coffee and conversations. To learn more about our offerings, please contact us.
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