We've all heard the phrase, “No Man Is An Island,” coined by John Donne in his poem. Most of us probably understand this to be a true statement. We recognize that significant relationships in our life can give us a feeling of connectivity with the rest of the world & help bolster our confidence when we're unsure of ourselves. But are there specific ways that close relationships impact the lives of aging adults? Is there a reason why we need to make sure that we keep up with key relationships in our lives as we age so that we can continue to enjoy a good life? Absolutely, and here's why:
- As we age, our network of friends and families shrinks. It is a normal occurrence and takes place with everyone who ages. People that we love either pass away or they move away to be with their close family members. As this happens, our network goes down in number. This does not necessarily have to be a bad thing, as it opens doors for us to get to know other people in a deeper way...as long as we're open to that. Getting to know new people & learning about their lives & experiences can help keep us informed in the world and give us more interesting things to think about. It can also give us a new network of friendships through them.
- It can be a significant factor in keeping us healthy! An article in the New York Times confirms this. "Other studies found that over time chronic loneliness is associated with high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, a diminished immune response, depression, sleep difficulties, cognitive decline and dementia."
If you've a genetic history of any one of these issues or diseases, building a strong network of close friendships could be a key to maintaining your health for longer periods of time.
- We can help others! Not only will these relationships benefit us, but they will also be having the same benefit on those we care about. Keeping them healthy is important. Nurturing strong, close relationships (not large quantity, but rather quality relationships), is healthy for our entire family, neighborhood & society. This does not mean that if you have a neighbor who has been bitter about life for years that your friendship will counteract that in a matter of weeks & make her into a healthy person. Close relationships are something that each of us must choose as a priority to work on, and if one remains closed off from other people, it's simply not going to work. Being open puts us in a bit of a vulnerable place, but if you've weighed the options & find that you can trust someone, the benefits will far outweigh the risks.
- There are also reciprocal benefit in other ways. You would not want someone to befriend you simply as a benefit to themselves, and in the same way, you would not do that to others. But, there is no denying that there are benefits to both of you from a relationship that may develop. Perhaps the other person is needing to move to an assisted living facility, but does not have the funds to hire movers. You, on the other hand, have quite a few able-bodied grandchildren that would love to help someone out! Perhaps your friend has a bountiful garden that they keep because they love digging in the dirt, while they don't really eat very much but you have a large family that appreciates good, local food. Maybe it's something as simple as having different magazine subscriptions that you can swap out. Whatever it is, there are almost always reciprocal benefits to any close relationship and those can help to foster good will between you.
- Mental health benefits. We talked about physical health benefits above, but close relationships can also have a huge impact on mental health. Knowing that there is someone else out there that is somewhat dependent on you can be a big help in having a purpose to get out of bed in the morning. In fact, without those friendships, people often lose their ability to live independently, even if there is nothing significantly wrong with them from a physical health standpoint. Loneliness can adversely impact our lives to a debilitating degree. Keeping those we love close can boost our emotional well being and spur us on to our next great adventure!
Take steps today to reach out to form a new friendship if you've not done so in awhile. Nurture the relationships that you have.
It is good for everyone!