Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday morning—any day of the week—you can find a group of men in the HyVee café. Some have canes, some have hearing aids, and yet they are all laughing. One day, I was in the store as three of the regulars were leaving. One of them was a little unsteady on his feet. I watched nervously, afraid he would fall. As he continued to walk, I moved a little closer, hoping to be in range to run over to catch him. He did stumble a little, but he did not fall. Without missing a stride, his friend on his left caught him by the elbow, just at the right moment, helping to restore his balance. All three moved on to the door, continuing their conversation, as if nothing had happened.
Really, a lot had happened. Those friends were there for each other, providing emotional and physical support, in just the ways acceptable to themselves. The lesson of the importance of social ties played right before my eyes.
Psychologists will tell you we are truly human when we connect with others. We are not meant to live alone, and in fact, connection with others is essential to our well-being. We need people our whole lives and we need to be needed. Older people without strong connections to others have a two to four times greater risk of death than those with strong connections, unrelated to age, socioeconomic or lifestyle factors.
Successful agers from the MacArthur Study1 say they thrive because they have friendships which keep them “active and emotionally secure, even in advanced age.”2 These seniors report protecting and caring for each other, both emotionally and physically, and sharing joys and concerns. Some also talk aboutthe need forconnection with nature, such as with a garden or a pet. One 82-year-old man explained these were also valuable connections because these living things depend on him and give back to him. All these relationships are the source of the successful agers’ vitality.
It is a myth that older people have fewer and fewer connections, just because they are older. That’s good news for younger and older folk alike. The MacArthur Study found people’s networks generally remained steady in size, but could have different participants over the years, such as when people relocate or pass away. Successful agers work to develop and maintain friendships with people of many ages. They are active participants in their groups of friends and the organizations they associate with.
Human connection is essential to a good life.
1 The MacArthur Foundation (John D and Catherine T) has supported a study of successful aging since the early 1980’s. In 1984, a study of more than 1000 highly functioning older adults began, with the goal to gather knowledge to improve older American’s physical and mental abilities and to retain and enhance function in later life. The researchers’ efforts spanned various scientific disciplines and emphasized positive aspects of aging. The findings are presented in “Successful Aging,” by John w. Rowe, M.D., and Robert L Kahn, Ph.D.
2 Page 154, “Successful Aging.”
Home Care Assistance’sBalanced Care Method help seniors maintain social ties. We see our clients thrive when they connect with caring people in their lives, including our caregivers. Call us today to speak with a care manager: 402-763-9140.