Fostering healthy relationships and friendships is essential at every age, especially for aging adults who are more likely to experience loneliness and social isolation. A recent study by Michigan State University reveals that friendship is vitally important to older adults as they age, revealing that “valuing friendships was related to better functioning, particularly among older adults.” Take a look at how close relationships are related to health and well-being for older adults:
William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, led researchers in a review of two surveys of approximately 280,000 people who were asked about their relationships, health, and happiness. The first study, which involved 271,053 adults, found that friendship was related to better functioning, especially among older adults. Family relationships, on the other hand, “exerted a static influence on health and well-being across the lifespan.” The second study looked at 7,481 older adults and revealed that strained friendships led to more chronic illnesses over six years.
The Importance of Long-Term Friendships
Chopik points out that long-term friendships are especially beneficial. “These are good friendships,” he says. “As we age, we prune away at some of the friendships that are more superficial and acquaintance-like” and are left “with the ones that are deeper and make us happy.” The study shows that older adults identified their friendships as accounting for what makes them happy and healthy. They did not take any other factors into account.
Friendships vs. Family
Chopik went on to point out that friendship is often overlooked when researching the physical and mental health of older individuals because family relationships are considered more important for this age group. But family members often become caregivers breeding a sense of obligation. While these relationships are still critical, they may not provide as much joy to older adults as compared to long-term friends.
Benefits of Having Friends
Chopik’s study was not the only one that shows how as we age, we can benefit from having friends. Here are some other statistics on the impact of friendship:
- Effects on heart disease: A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study reveals people who deal with loneliness and isolation are 29% more likely to develop heart disease and 32% more likely to have a stroke as compared to those who are socially engaged.
- Cognitive decline: A study published by the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychology shows that loneliness can increase the risk of dementia by more than 60%.
- Long-term Illness: A World Health Organization study shows people who live alone are more susceptible to chronic conditions like lung disease, arthritis, and depression.
- Lifespan: An NIH study revealed that lonely older adults have a 45% increase in death risk and a 59% increased risk of mental and physical decline.
Now is the perfect time to pick up the phone and call an old friend! Get together for coffee or enjoy a fun activity together. Or join your local senior center or volunteer in your community to make new friends and connections. It will be more beneficial than you can imagine!
To learn more, take a look at the article by AARP CT: “Friends Can Boost Health, Well-Being Among Older Adults”