Forming Friendships in the Senior Years Can be a Life-Extending Effort


Friends have always been an essential part of your life. But as you’ve aged, you’ve noticed a decrease in the number of people you consider pals, which makes you wonder whether you’ve lost the knack for making and keeping friends. While having fewer friends is an everyday experience of growing older, creating bonds with others later in life can be difficult. Still, the health benefits of friendship in the senior years are so significant that revisiting and honing the skill of making friends has the potential to improve life and even add years to it.

Why Friendship Matters for Older Adults

An active social life yields joy, laughter, and entertainment, but there’s much more to gain from friendship than mere fun, and seniors may profit the most. That’s because having friends has many health perks key to preventing age-related illness and extending life, from lower blood pressure to less stress to a decreased risk of obesity. According to a study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, mutual friendship support is even better; it helps reduce disease-promoting inflammation in the body. In addition, friends of seniors who already suffer from chronic health conditions improve coping ability and offer a positive distraction from day-to-day challenges.

Brain health may be significantly affected by friendship during the senior years. Isolation is a common concern for many older adults, many of whom live alone. But when friends come into play, so does a sense of belonging, purpose, and fulfillment. The mood lifts and lightens, alleviating depression and anxiety. Friends also help increase cognitive function and memory through conversation and sharing experiences. They’re ideal for comparing health concerns and reinforcing good wellness habits, like doctor visits and exercise, which have been shown to increase longevity.

Tips for Forming Friendships as You Age

So what if you’re rusty at making friends? Brush off the dust and try these simple tips for sharpening and refreshing your friendship-forming skills:

  1. Start by Finding Prospective Friends
    Making friends later in life begins with finding people you connect with. Unfortunately, they won’t magically show up at your doorstep. But you won’t need to search far and wide, either. Instead, take advantage of situations and venues at your disposal that can be good resources for finding friends. For example, you might visit a senior center and participate in a program or event with other seniors. If you like to exercise, consider attending a group fitness class. Volunteering for a nonprofit organization or joining a book or gardening club can culminate in friendships, too. Houses of worship, golf courses, and even social media are other popular and convenient places to make friends during the senior years.
  2. Recognize the Friendship Potential
    Let’s be realistic; not everyone you meet later in life will have friendship potential, but some certainly will. Use your instincts to single out those who are the best candidates, and don’t let younger or older prospects deter you. Instead, home in on the commonality that attracts you and recognize it as a sign to further explore the friendship. Maybe there’s someone in your yoga class who shows up on the same days as you and sets a mat next to yours. Perhaps you and a neighbor have grandkids similar in age, which offers the bonus of forming two bonds. Whatever the feature that draws you in, recognize it as a sign to further explore the friendship.
  3. Get Uncomfortable
    Don’t let the fear of sounding nosy keep you from asking questions of people you hardly know. Most people enjoy talking about themselves and appreciate the attention others give. If you visit a coffee shop, for example, take a bold step with another customer and ask for a coffee drink recommendation or if the pastries are worth trying. Likewise, be willing to open up to others about yourself by expressing your thoughts and feelings on whatever topics come up in everyday chitchat. Small talk may seem superficial, but it can lead to a bigger, meatier conversation and, better still, a meaningful friendship.
  4. Go for Quality, Not Quantity
    When it comes to friends, less can be more. A study published in Psychology and Aging found that personal well-being is more closely tied to social satisfaction than a certain number of friends. Although having a group of casual friends and acquaintances can help reduce loneliness, a few close friendships may be all you need, especially if you have the good fortune of support from multiple family members. So instead of befriending everyone and anyone, concentrate on developing a handful of gratifying relationships. It’ll make the goal of forming friendships easier and more advantageous in the long run.
  5. Be Persistent
    Persistence pays off, even if you’re faced with rejection initially. Inviting someone new to meet for lunch or join you for a morning walk may not be satisfied with an affirmative response at first. You might need to put forth regular, consistent effort before you find success. Try to avoid getting discouraged. Friendships are an investment of time and work. If you give up too quickly, you may miss out on an opportunity to form a bond with someone who could have a profoundly positive impact on your life. Some of the best friendships take months or years to develop, but they can be well worth the wait when they happen.

Friends aren’t just lovely to have; they can bring good health and long life. So take friendships as seriously as you did when you were younger and relearn the skill of making them. You’ll benefit from the fruits of your labor for years and years to come.


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