Humans are social creatures, and we all gravitate toward other people. Nobody likes being on their own indefinitely, even if they are naturally an introvert and can’t stand people a lot of the time! The problem is that, as we get older, we lose a lot of our social connections: friendships built in the workplace fade after retirement and in later decades, friends move away, and some even die.
A lot of seniors are very lonely, with some not seeing a soul from one day to the next. Sadly, loneliness is a risk factor for dementia, so let’s look in more detail at why friendships are so important in later life.
The Impact of Friendship on Mental Health
Friendships play a significant role in maintaining good mental health. Older people who have a lot of friends and social connections tend to experience less stress, depression, and anxiety. Taking part in social activities with friends can provide a sense of purpose, boost self-esteem, and increase overall life satisfaction. These positive mental health outcomes can, in turn, have protective effects against cognitive decline and dementia.
Cognitive Stimulation Through Social Interaction
One possible explanation for the link between friendship and reduced dementia risk lies in the cognitive stimulation provided by social interaction. Engaging in conversations, sharing experiences, and participating in group activities with friends keeps the mind active and sharp. These interactions challenge the brain, improving cognitive functioning and potentially slowing down the progression of cognitive decline.
Active living for seniors can help promote social interaction and keep seniors connected to their communities, by offering opportunities for older people to attend classes and live in the same complex.
Emotional Support and Stress Reduction
Maintaining close friendships in later life provides emotional support, which helps individuals cope with stressful situations. Chronic stress has been linked to an increased risk of developing dementia, so having a support system of friends can help mitigate this risk. Friends offer a safe space to express emotions, share concerns, and receive advice, ultimately reducing stress levels and promoting overall mental well-being.
Physical Health Benefits
Friendship in later life not only benefits mental health but also contributes to improved physical health. Engaging in social activities with friends often involves physical movement, such as walking, dancing, or participating in group exercises. Regular physical activity has been shown to have protective effects against cognitive decline and dementia, as it improves blood flow to the brain and promotes the growth of new brain cells.
How to Foster and Maintain Friendships in Later Life
- Building and maintaining friendships in later life requires effort and dedication. Here are some tips:
- Join community groups or clubs in the local community. Many are created specifically for older people.
- Stay connected with old friends – the internet makes this very easy, thanks to email and apps like Zoom.
- Volunteer to get yourself out of the house more often.
- Engage in activities and hobbies you enjoy, such as walking or dancing.
Friendships are important so it’s worth making an effort to keep up with existing friends and being more sociable in later life. If your family do not live nearby, try and join clubs or move to a senior living complex with organized activities and people your own age. Life will be a lot more fulfilling!