Golden Friendships

Golden Friendships: How to Keep Lifelong Connections

By: Adriane G. Berg

A VTech Spokeperson Blog

Janice was excited about moving into an assisted living community. She had already signed up for several clubs. It was her best friend Lori who worried about being lonely without her friend. Lori was right to be concerned with her social future. Ken Wells in the RAND study at UCLA found that 50% of all depressed people are over the age of 65, and that depression has a direct connection to loneliness.

Isolation Can Creep Up On Us, We May Not Even Notice It Is Happening

You begin to have trouble driving. A child moves away. A friend enters assisted living. Most people become isolated in small and subtle increments; without even realizing how limited their social life has become. If you are a caregiver for a homebound elder, you can be isolated even though you are not living alone. Staying connected can be particularly hard for those that reject senior centers or planned community activities.  They can shift into loneliness without awareness.

A study begun in 1985 at the University of Arizona and Duke University surveyed how many close contacts participants had.  The average was three. Nearly 20 years later the number had declined to two, and those with no close contacts rose from 10% to 24.5%.

Francis Norwood, in her book “The Maintenance of Life,” describes this as social death; we lose the personal connections that are essential to our well-being.

Make Socializing a Health Habit

Socializing gives us a decided “survival advantage,” both mentally and physically. Individuals with a rich social network lived at least 1.6 years longer than their peers.i  By contrast, the Amsterdam study of the elderly documented the contributing affect of feelings of loneliness and social isolation on dementia.  John Cacioppo, social psychologist at the University of Chicago, studied the biological effects of loneliness and found loneliness tied to hardening of the arteries, inflammation in the body, and problems with learning and memory. Socializing is as important as good nutrition and exercise for your health.

 Start a Stay-Connected Plan

If you find your social network unraveling, make reaching out a habit. The easiest pipeline for communication is the telephone. That's why VTech CareLine® phones provides you with a place on your home phone to post three pictures of friends or family for pushbutton dialing. You need never look up their phone number or remember it by heart. Just make the call and stay connected. With its audio enhancement your conversations will be clear as a bell.

Want to use e-mail, but don’t know how? Generations Online is dedicated to simplifying the internet and e-mail for elders. You don’t need any computer experience to learn and classes are available free of charge in many senior centers. And if you don’t use a computer, Presto is a device that looks like a printer but sends e-mails directly to your friend’s computer.

Make a Written Social Commitment

Use a calendar to write down who and when you will makes calls, send letters and e mails. Make sure you have scheduled daily contacts. If you live far from a friend, schedule holiday visits. Or create a “friendship holiday” for visiting.  If cost, health concerns or geography make that impossible, use Skype or other video calling technology. And don’t forget the mail. Mail photos of yourself; note important dates like birthdays and anniversaries; call and send a card. Resurrect the lost the art of letter writing.

If you are choosing an assisted living community, pick one that focuses on your life outside as well as inside the community.

Many facilities offer special programs designed to keep residents connected to old friends and the world at large. For example, Connected Living provides interactive activities for residents that include family members and friends in the community. Master Piece Living creates activities that are personal to you, including civic involvement.  Ageless Traveler, Life Long Travel Made Easy® arranges friendship trips for older adults that like to travel together, or for caregivers and care recipients to visit family.

Become a “Friend Detective,” search for old friends that live near by.

 “I moved to New Jersey and found my two best friends from high school. They lived close to me, yet we had lost touch for decades.  I thought about them many times throughout the years, but never made an attempt to connect. I had my daughter search for them on Facebook. Now, we are giggling again, like old times.”

You can also do detective work on-line through the White Pages.  All you need is a snip of information like a name, zip code, or address to make that search.

If you miss your work buddies, the best network to utilize is LinkedIn; it’s designed to help you connect with people for business or social purposes.

These efforts are not just fun they are absolutely essential to making socializing a habit, as important to your health as nutrition and exercise. And don’t stand on ceremony in getting in touch.  If you are more likely to make that phone call than your friend, or if technology comes easier to you, go the extra mile for them. There's nothing more important than staying connected.