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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Friendship is an important part of aging

Apr 06, 2018 03:47AM ● By Cecily Whiteside

From our earliest years, friends play a vital role in our lives. We frolic together on the playground, we tell each other secret hopes and dreams during our school years and we help each other through raising children. But what about when we get older? In our older years, friends continue to be crucial to our health and happiness.

Friendship over time

An Aalto University study shows that while our social circle is greatest in our early 20s, those casual friendships drop during the early years of marriage and child rearing. At the same time, our remaining friendships become deeper. In essence, we invest our limited time in relationships that matter, both in and out of the workforce, and let acquaintances fall by the wayside. But there comes a time when we need to reinvest in forming acquaintances, some of which will bloom into lasting friendships.

Life changes bring drastic changes to our friendships as well: divorce, sickness, the death of a spouse, heading back into the workforce after raising kids, or retiring from a long-held job. These shifts in direction bring new people into our lives or change the dynamic of our current friendships.

“There are phases of friendship,” said Joan Liversidge, 70. “Now most of my friends are from my faith community, but some have remained friends beyond the time we met. There are work friends, child-rearing friends, dog friends and neighborhood friends. When I became an empty nester, I had more time to enjoy doing things with others.”

The importance of same-sex friendships

According to a Nurse’s Health Study conducted by Harvard Medical School, women with deep friendships are less likely to develop physical ailments as they age. Statistically, a lack of close friends is as detrimental to health as obesity or smoking. Social ties are shown to decrease blood pressure, heart rate and bad cholesterol.

Loneliness is associated with increased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and obesity, as well as a drop in immunity response to infection, according to John Cacioppo, professor of social neuroscience at the University of Chicago.

“Women need women,” said author Michelle Rohlf. “There are things a husband can’t understand. Children definitely don’t get it. As our kids move on to create their own lives and families, it’s even more important to have these connections. We need to be intentional about our friendships. Ask. Meet them for coffee.”

Making connections

Experts agree that Facebook connections are no replacement for personal interactions that come from time together.

So how can we make these necessary connections? Start with your interests. Do you love live music? Attend the Grand Junction Symphony concerts and invite someone to come with you. Love hiking? There are an abundance of trails close by. Are you a life-long learner? Classes at the library, university or New Dimensions bring you together with like-minded people.

Joining a faith community gives a base for any friendship, and volunteering for something you are passionate about can be a great conduit to bridge-building with others.

Finding friends can be difficult for some and effortless for others, but it’s important for all. But don’t expect friendship to blossom right away.

True friendship is a connection that enriches our life. We need others around us to give our lives depth and joy, no matter our age, interests or inclination.