Friends Add Quality — and Quite Possibly Years — to Your Life

importance of friendship

With the International Day of Friendship coming up on July 30, it’s an ideal time to stop and think about how much your friends mean to you. In fact, after reading this, you may have an ever greater appreciation for them.

Not only does friendship bring joy and happiness to our days. It also boosts our health and can help us live longer. Studies show that for seniors, friendships may be even more important in some ways than relationships with family members.

Even though maintaining friendships and building new ones can become more difficult as we get older, the additional effort can bring tremendous rewards.

We May Outgrow Friends, But Not the Need for Friendship

When we’re children, almost anyone around us has the potential to become a friend, and this openness to forming new relationships often continues at least until adolescence, though we gradually become more discerning.

In school, we’re surrounded by people of similar age. As our personality and interests emerge, we gravitate toward those who are like us or with whom we share common ground. Later, college may bring a new set of experiences and people into our lives, broadening our social circles.

As we begin a career and possibly a family, our circumstances and the people around us on a regular basis continue to shift. Though we may lose touch with friends from our past, we make new ones through work or parenting activities. But the demands on our time are greater, and while we may maintain some of our closest friendships, our skills for making new friends can grow rusty.

After retirement, there’s usually more time to devote to friendships, yet in many cases the friends we’ve known the longest are no longer in our lives. Particularly among the elderly, friends can become less accessible as distance, mobility, transportation and other factors — such as impaired vision or hearing — make it harder to spend quality time together.

Paradoxically, it’s the period after retirement in which friendships may be most vital to our health and well-being.

How Friendship Benefits Older Adults

Along with the laughter and fun friends bring into our lives, the social connections and special bonds we have with others can promote a healthy lifestyle as we age. It’s worth the extra effort to nurture established friendships and seek out new ones for reasons such as these:

  • Friendships keep us from being socially isolated. Whether visiting in person or using technology to connect remotely, spending time with friends helps prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation — which have been linked to depression, dementia, a greater risk for premature death and other adverse health effects.
  • Meaningful relationships boost our physical and mental health. Connecting with friends can help us live longer, sleep better, bolster our immune system, reduce stress, lower our risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and even enhance our cognitive function.
  • Our support system can help us during difficult times. Being able to turn to good friends for comfort can make a world of difference when dealing with a challenging situation, like a serious illness or the loss of a loved one.
  • Friends can help us continue to grow and improve. It’s easy to become complacent as we get older, and that can negatively affect our health in numerous ways. Our friends encourage us to take better care of ourselves, and it can seem more appealing to stay active and explore new interests with a good friend by our side.

So, How Do Seniors Meet Other Seniors?

Although meeting new people may not be as spontaneous as in our younger years, we can make a conscious effort to increase our opportunities for forming new friendships as we get older. Here are several suggestions:

  • Take a class or discover a new favorite pastime. See what’s offered at your local senior center or community college.
  • Volunteer or find a part-time job. Put your time, talent and experience to good use helping others and see how much good it does for you, too.
  • Increase your physical activity. Whether you go for walks in your neighborhood, take dance lessons or attend fitness classes, you’ll be out where you can meet other people.
  • Check out events in your community. Some communities offer free music concerts in the summer, and most senior centers have regularly scheduled group activities and events. Ask a family member or friend to go with you if it helps you feel more comfortable.

Senior Living and New Friendships Go Hand in Hand

At Heron’s Key, meeting new people is a breeze. In time, new relationships often deepen into satisfying friendships. Just ask residents Kerry and Anne Smith.

The Smiths moved to Heron’s Key a few years ago and have found many ways to get to know their neighbors and make new friends.

As Kerry says, “It’s very welcoming here. There’s a lot of things to do — almost too many. And if you don’t find something you like, you can go ahead and start your own thing. We’ve done that, too. You can be as engaged as you want to be.”

The Reuben Group: A Case in Point

The Reuben Group is something Kerry and Anne unintentionally started with another couple at Heron’s Key late last year. They went to lunch and ordered Reuben sandwiches. Afterward, a few other residents overheard them in the lobby at Heron’s Key talking about how good the sandwiches had been. Within three days, according to Kerry, there were a couple dozen people in the new Reuben Group, and as of early June, the group had 65 members.

Not everyone goes each time, but about once a month members will get together and take the Heron’s Key van to the restaurant of their choice to have Reuben sandwiches. When they return, Kerry sends out a form they all use to score the sandwiches.

“We’ve gone back to a couple of places that were especially good,” Kerry notes.

At one of the group’s outings, Kerry mentioned that oysters were on the menu. That, in turn, led to the creation of the Oyster Lovers Group, which has more than three dozen members.

The International Tasters Group is another offshoot of the Reuben Group. Members enjoy sampling different cuisines at the peninsula’s many authentic ethnic restaurants.

Lead in Your Own Way

Anne describes herself as a behind-the-scenes organizer, whereas Kerry is the kind of person who will bake a cake and take it down the hall for an impromptu get-together with neighbors. They’ve both found ways to enrich their lives through a variety of activities.

For instance, both are part of our resident ambassador program, volunteering to give weekend tours when people drop by to check out Heron’s Key, and helping new residents settle in and learn their way around.

About once a month, Kerry heads over to Penrose Harbor and bakes cookies with residents who are with us for memory care and assisted living. He’s also part of Neighbors Care, a group of residents who volunteer to look out for their neighbors and help with occasional small favors. He also provides technical assistance for the Heron’s Key in-house TV station, HKTV.

Anne leads a resident group call Gatherings, randomly organizing participants into groups of six who dine together. They meet for hors d’oeuvres in one of the residents’ homes before dinner or dessert afterward. It’s an easy, low-key way for residents to get to know each other better.

She’s also an active member of the Pet Partners Group. Residents who have a cat or dog can “buddy” with one or more other pet owners through the group so they always have someone they can count on to take care of their pet if the need arises.

“Floor” Parties Are All About Seniors Meeting Seniors

Two or three times a year, residents on each floor get together at community restaurant Spinnakers for a themed party, similar to a block party in a residential neighborhood. The most recent event for the Smiths’ floor had a drugstore soda fountain theme, with neighbors chatting over ice cream floats and sundaes.

“It’s a chance to share some time with your neighbors and see people you wouldn’t normally see,” Kerry explains. “We have a lot of fun here.”

He also mentions how wonderful the Heron’s Key staff is, including the culinary staff who go out of their way to ensure events like these are successful.

Want to Add More Fun and Friends to Your Life?

As you can see, the opportunities to make new connections are abundant at Heron’s Key. They’re woven into an active lifestyle that helps residents stay vibrant and engaged.

If you’d like to learn more about our community and all we offer, call us at (877) 892-7129 or submit a contact form online. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and arrange a time for you to come see how friendly and fulfilling life can be at Heron’s Key.

Featured Image:  Drazen Zigic / Shutterstock