The importance of family in a senior’s life is truly immeasurable. Not only does family provide a consistent social network, evidence has led us to believe that the relationship a senior keeps with his or her family has a direct impact on their overall quality of life. Seniors who maintain strong ties with their family have even been shown to outlive those who report less favorable relationships. If the potential for a longer life doesn’t make you want to connect with your loved ones, here are more reasons why you should make an effort to prioritize family.
Changes in Social Networks
As life happens, your social networks are likely to change. Family is often the one connection that remains constant. As the saying goes, “you can change your friends but you can’t change your family.” For this reason, relatives often become closest to you. They provide a stable source of connection.
The Connection Between Family and Health
As Americans age, it becomes more apparent just how important family truly is. When it comes to maintaining a high-quality life, staying connected to friends and family was a primary concern for about 30% of those surveyed in the United States Aging Survey. Believe it or not, relationships were more important than financial resources for the majority of people surveyed.
But the significance of family goes deeper than the senior’s preference. There is a strong correlation between health and the strength of one’s family relationships. The benefits associated with elders who report having stronger ties with their families include the following:
Longer life. Elders who are more socially involved with family members are more likely to live longer than those who remain isolated. This is even true for those who are experiencing late stages of dementia. Although you may not be able to tell, a family’s presence is prolonging their life as well as improving the quality of their remaining years.
Stronger immune system. Social seniors often have stronger immune systems. This is especially important for their age group because older immune systems are typically weaker than younger ones.
Improved mental health. Seniors who are close to their families also have been reported to have better mental health than those who are not. Interacting with their family and being reminded that they are cared about reduces feelings of depression.
Brain health. Older people who are more socially engaged typically have a higher level of cognitive function.Those who reported being happy and engage in social activities were more likely to have an increase in their memory and thinking skills. Those who indicated the opposite experienced a decline in their cognitive abilities.
Family dynamics typically shift throughout life. This means that the support that is given and received is constantly evolving. One of the most drastic changes that take place is the one that occurs between a parent and their children. Parents take care of children when they were young, and now the roles have reversed and they need to be taken care of.
Financial support is often needed by a senior with declining health. Providing support through monetary means can alleviate some of the stress an elder is experiencing. Stress fuels illness by weakening your immunity. This can make a major difference in a senior’s health because their immune system is already in a fragile state.
While it is helpful if you are able to provide financial resources, emotional support is another form of support that does wonders for an aging loved one’s health. Having someone to talk to about their life positively affects their contentment.
Other support can come from doing simple tasks such as helping around the house and running errands.
The Power of Friendship
Although family is important for your health, we understand that not every senior has a family that can play an active role in their life. Studies have shown that having strong relations, in general, are beneficial to senior health. Elders can still reap the health benefits by strengthening the relationships they have with others who are already in your life or by making new friends.
Making new friends can be difficult at any life-stage, but it can be particularly challenging for older adults. As a child, you used to have the advantage of meeting friends at school and when you grew up you met them at work. If you are retired you may not be around as many people. But making new friends is still possible, it just requires a little extra work.
Before you get out there you should forget the assumption that everyone else has friends. Even if they do, there’s always room for more. People are often looking to expand their friend-pool the same way you are. With that being said, here are some tips and tricks to help you get out and meet new people.
Get a part-time job. If you are retired, getting a job where you work a few hours a week can expose you to new people. Being around new people gives you more chances to make new friends.
Take a class learning something you have always been interested in. Break the ice by asking for advice from your more experienced classmate.
Join a gym. This is a double-win because you can meet people and get your exercise in at the same time.
Find a cause you are passionate about and volunteer. By volunteering somewhere you care about, you can meet other people who care about the same things you do – you already have something in common!
With constant technological advancements, staying connected with friends and family is easier than ever. Here are a few ways for seniors and their families to stay connected using technology.
Text Messaging. Texting is a great way for grandparents and their grandchildren to stay in touch. This form of communication takes seconds and allows you to exchange a quick photo or let your family know that you are thinking of them.
Email. Email is another way aging adults can maintain relationships with loved ones. Email allows you to send longer messages that would not be realistic to send in a text message. If you want to exchange an group of photos or convey a detailed family update, email would be the way to go!
Social Media Platforms. Social media platforms are one of the best ways to stay in touch. More specifically, Facebook. Facebook makes connecting with loved-ones effortless. You can share photos and messages with everyone at once or to individual members. It is a great way to manage your relationships with all of the important people in your life. You can see what everyone is up to by scrolling through your feed.
Skype. This option is great for making inexpensive/free international calls. You can also make video calls.
There are many other ways you can connect with your loved ones using technology and they are continuously becoming more and more available.
Although technology has provided an easier way for families to connect, traditional methods are still important.
In-person visits. In-person visits are the most meaningful. If you can visit with friends and family, do it.
Letters. A handwritten letter is something that will be very meaningful to a senior and a loved-one. It is something that you can keep.
Phone calls. Although text messages are nice, seniors would appreciate a call from you every now and then.
There are so many ways that seniors can maintain healthy relationships with their friends and family. Many of them are so easy to do and would make the world of a difference to each member. Make the effort to strengthen your relationship with family – their health depends on it!
“The Importance of a Family in a Senior’s Life,” by Ashley LeVine, Amada Blog Contributor.