Our relationships with other people can be one of the most wonderful, joyous aspects of life. Connecting with and sharing our lives with others is one of the most human experiences we can have. As we get older, we have the opportunity to experience a wide variety of relationships in different contexts, from romantic partnerships to parenthood.
As people enter their golden years, they often face more new experiences with their relationships that aren’t always positive. They begin to lose older friends and family members; younger relatives focus on other aspects of their own lives, and maintaining relationships becomes more difficult as seniors deal with their own health issues.
A recent study found that friendships can greatly benefit older adults and their health. While familial relationships don’t offer the same boost, maintaining all of these relationships is important for seniors, their well-being, and their happiness.
The Dangers Seniors Face
People face a higher likelihood of experiencing health problems as they get older. From chronic illnesses to falls, these health issues may leave older adults vulnerable to lessened levels of ability. When leaving the house is an arduous task, it becomes increasingly easy to become disconnected from other people in your life.
Isolation from family and friends is also one of the biggest risk factors for elder abuse. So not only does isolation negatively affect the physical health of seniors, it leaves them open to being taken advantage of.
In addition, seniors may experience more issues with their mental health. The American Psychological Association reports that though 20 percent of people over the age of 55 suffer from a mental disorder, less than 3 percent of them seek treatment. Depression, substance abuse, and even suicide are all very real problems that older adults may encounter — all of which can be exacerbated by lack of a support system.
Forging a Connection
Social relationships, then, are not just a luxury but a necessity for older adults to maintain their physical and mental health. And though healthy relationships require effort and care from both parties to flourish, sometimes one person has to put in more work to keep the relationship alive.
Most of us have an older adult in our lives that we care about — a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or even a friend — and there’s likely more we can do to keep those relationships strong. It comes down to what our priorities are. Daily life can get incredibly hectic, and shifting our focus can be difficult, but we can only make these changes consciously and deliberately.
Make an active effort to connect with the older adults in your life. Call more often, offer to take them out for lunch or to an appointment, or drop by for a visit when you can. Ask others to do the same with the older adults in their life. Not only will the seniors in your life benefit from this, so will you. Wisdom and old age are closely linked for a reason: because those with more life experience than us have experiences and knowledge to pass along.
These relationships are highly beneficial for younger and older adults alike. Successful intergenerational relationships are built on three main factors: education, friendship, and caring. Helping children foster a relationship with an older adult based on those factors can even help them have a healthier attitude toward aging later in life. In a society that puts such a large emphasis on youth, it’s important to have an outlook like that.
A key, but often overlooked reason to foster your relationship with the older adults in your life? They’re still people. It doesn’t matter that they can improve your own journey as you age or provide useful, experiential advice. They are still human beings, and just because they are elderly doesn’t mean they are less deserving of our respect.
Photo by Rod Long
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