There are a lot of factors that play a role in how well we age as our years advance, but one of the major components that can sway your aging outcome is companionship. We know that loneliness can have a detrimental effect on health, so it stands to reason that the opposite is true.
While experts have been clear that leading an active lifestyle can add years to the life of seniors, so too can a solid social network help them bounce back after illness. Additionally, it may help prevent the decline of cognitive function.
Whether you are elderly yourself or a have an aging relative who is concerned about their level of companionship, there are numerous ways to ensure they are getting adequate social support. Whether they live at home alone or in a nursing home. The important thing to know is just how important companionship is when it comes to aging healthily.
George Vaillant, Psychiatrist and one of the researchers in the 80-year-old Harvard Study of Adult Development says, “When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment. But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”
“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” says Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.
Studies, including the Harvard Study and others find that people in happy relationships have reduced risks for heart disease, depression and have healthier immune systems. Having companionship naturally lifts everyone’s spirits, which of course, plays a major role in maintaining physical health. Moreover, having regular social calls means that visitors will notice any changes in mood or physicality which could indicate a health issue at play. It also means that in the event of an emergency, it won’t be long before someone gets involved.
“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” says Robert Waldinger, director of the 80-year-old Harvard Study of Adult Development.
The study’s authors report that close relationships bring happiness to people’s lives, and these ties protect people from life’s problems that can lead to cognitive, and physical decline. The study notes that the happiness that results from these close ties are better predictors of life expectancy and longevity than genes, or other factors thought to be important such as social class or IQ.
“Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.” — Robert Waldinger (director of the Harvard study of Adult Development)
We’ve all heard about elderly people losing their spouse and dying shortly after, seemingly of a broken heart. Loneliness affects people of all ages, but it’s especially detrimental to the aging as they often aren’t as mobile as younger generations who can take themselves to the grocery store or to sit in a cafe. Loneliness can result in depression and anxiety, which is dangerous for everyone, but especially for someone in advancing years who doesn’t have the social support required to overcome their condition.
This is two-fold – older people love to share stories about the experiences they had when they were younger, about the friends they have, adventures they went on, and the things that they saw. It’s beneficial to aging to be able to share those stories with someone and for the younger generation, it’s beneficial to hear those stories so they can pass them on through the generations. Every family has wild stories from the past that they regularly share, and the only way to get them is by spending time with your aging relatives.
Establishing social bonds provides emotional support which facilitates healthy aging and happiness. Happiness is key to improved longevity and reduced risks of age-related physical conditions. It also helps to improve self-esteem and confidence and goes to preventing depression, loneliness, and anxiety in the elderly.
Whether you are aging or know someone who is, it’s important to take the necessary steps now to improve social bonds and establish a strong social network. With our life expectancies increasing our elderly communicate is, too. Which means it is more important than ever to find companions to lean on in times of difficulty and even in times of joy.
According to Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard study of Adult Development, and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School says, “When we gathered together everything we knew about them about at age 50, it wasn’t their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old,” said Waldinger in a popular TED Talk. “It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”
If you are looking for companionship and you just don’t know where to start – utilize your family members as the first port of call. Beyond that, put yourself out there in the community by volunteering, engaging in hobbies and activities, join classes at the community college, and attend religious services in line with your beliefs.
These are all places you will meet like-minded people who you can develop friendships with – start now so that you can maintain these friendships and relationships as you age. Our social circles shrink as we get older so it’s vital that we make new friends regularly and work to maintain those relationships. They are worth it.
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