Ask the Expert: The Benefits of Meaningful Relationships in Seniors

Senior Director, Resident Programs Charles Richardson

Q: Why is it so important for seniors to stay connected and have meaningful relationships?

A: No matter what our age, staying plugged in and connected to our friends, family and the community around us can bring powerful meaning and happiness to our lives. Quality relationships are vital to our overall emotional, mental and physical health. This is especially important as we age.

Studies from Connect2affect, powered by the AARP Foundation, show us 17 percent of adults age 65 and older are isolated, 26 percent have increased risk of death due to subjective feelings of loneliness and 51 percent of people age 75 and older live alone! These vulnerabilities and risks are why staying connected and nurturing meaningful relationships is so important.

 

What benefits are there to building relationships and staying connected to others?

At any age we all want to thrive in life; that’s one of the main benefits of connections, particularly social connectedness. Dr. Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, has followed 700-plus men since 1938. More than 60 of the original participants, now in their 90s, are still taking part.

“People who are more socially connected to family, friends and community are happier, healthier and live longer than people who are less connected,” he said.

Connections have so many benefits: purpose, joy, happiness, improved emotional, mental and physical health. Quality relationships are the key to unlock a life filled with meaning, contribution and overall wellness — an Optimum Life!

 

How can seniors build a network around them, both in their senior living communities and their communities at-large?

It’s important to recognize it’s never too late to nurture and improve existing relationships while at the same time investing and developing new friends. Ask yourself, when was the last time you made a new friend?

Like exercising or eating well, consider this an investment in independent self-care. Take the time to reach out, and if a connection is made, it’s clearly worth the risk. Remember that it’s not about the size of your social network, what matters most is the quality of the relationships in it. Consider joining a club, a choir or volunteering. These open many doors inside and outside the local community.

 

What possible impact is there for seniors who do not stay socially or purposefully connected to others?

The impact of social isolation and loneliness can be devastating. AARP’s Connect2affect believes isolation is a growing health epidemic, listing more than 8 million adults age 50 and older as being affected by isolation.

It’s important to know social isolation and loneliness are not the same. Isolation relates more to the absence of social networks and resources. Loneliness is emotional and subjective to each individual. Loneliness is tricky, often a hidden, private issue that is not easily detected or freely shared. We need to be aware of both of these risks as we work to identify and solve.

 

How can technology help seniors achieve connectedness and in what ways have you seen seniors benefiting from technology in Brookdale communities?

A resident living in one of our Brookdale communities recently asked me, “Why should I use technology?” It was a fair question, and one we’ve considered carefully. There are many answers to that question, but we believe connectedness is the no. 1 reason.

In 2016, we deployed iPads® to all our Resident Engagement associates across Brookdale with the challenge to find as many ways as possible to create connections. Through Skype™, one resident saw her great-granddaughter within minutes after she was born.

Another resident enjoys what she calls “Facetime® Fridays” where she and her daughter, who lives in Germany, now connect routinely. Another resident learned the graduation ceremony where her grandson attends would be streaming, so without being able to fly there, she was able to watch him graduate. These are priceless moments of connections.

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