Friendships are important at every stage of life. They make us feel valued and bring us joy.
That need for personal connection doesn’t go away as we age — but keeping friends becomes more challenging.
As we age, we get sick. When we retire, we lose work friendships. And often, spouses or close loved ones will pass away, narrowing our social circles even more. All these life changes can be tough, and it’s normal to develop feelings of loneliness, isolation, or depression.
Research in recent years has confirmed that the loneliness that can come with aging has a significant negative impact on seniors’ health, both physically and psychologically.
A 2012 study by Dr. Carla Perissinotto from the University of California, San Francisco, found that 42 percent of people over 60 feel lonely. It also concluded that loneliness makes us more likely to lose mobility and heightens our risk of death.
Organizations in California and across the country are responding.
Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, based in San Francisco, eases the isolation of seniors by pairing them with younger volunteers who can visit them. One of these seniors is Emil. After the 83-year-old San Franciscan had a stroke 10 years ago, he stopped going out of the house and became isolated. Thankfully, he connected with Shipra, a volunteer with Little Brothers. She would visit Emil regularly — at first, sharing music and conversation at his apartment, and eventually, getting Emil to get out of the house and go for a walk. Now, years into this friendship, the pair now go to jazz shows and out to eat often. Having Shipra as a friend has turned Emil’s life around.
The AARP Foundation has also developed an online network to raise awareness of social isolation among seniors. The network, Connect2Affect, offers articles, videos, and other resources to help seniors find personal connections. It also provides a self-assessment so you can see if loneliness is personally affecting your health.
Despite the obstacles of maintaining friendships later in life, we must do more as a community and society to combat elder loneliness for a healthier state for all.