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Thank You for Being a Friend: Socializing as a Senior

Posted by Valerie Henderson on May 18th 2020

At any age, loneliness is a curse. But for caregivers and many older people, a lack of social activity can be hazardous to their health. People who don't get out often can succumb to depression, which in turn makes them more vulnerable to illnesses including heart disease, alcoholism, diabetes, and even cancer.

At any age, loneliness is a curse. But for caregivers and many older people, a lack of social activity can be hazardous to their health. People who don't get out often can succumb to depression, which in turn makes them more vulnerable to illnesses including heart disease, alcoholism, diabetes, and even cancer.

The cure

Just as loneliness can destroy a person's life, socializing can save it. In a 13-year study of almost 3,000 senior citizens, Harvard researchers found that social activities such as playing bingo or attending church may be just as important to survival as regular exercise. That's right: When it comes to adding years to one's life, looking for bingo's O-62 is right up there with jogging.

Adding cheers (and years) to your life

Friendships and activities reduce stress, help people feel worthy and needed, and stimulate the mind. According to a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine, strong social contacts offer powerful protection against the mental declines that often go along with aging.

And having strong friendships can also add years to one's life. A Spanish study published by BMC Geriatrics found that having a confidant was linked to a 25 percent less risk of dying prematurely than an elderly person without strong friendships.

Filling your dance card

When Marge Burger's husband died of a heart attack seven years ago, she made a sad discovery: Widows don't get invited to many dances. Or card games. Or dinners. "I still had loyal friends, but I just didn't seem to fit in," she says.

Like many seniors her age, the 74-year-old resident of Portland, Oregon, slipped into a quiet, lonely rut. She enjoyed time with her children and grandchildren, but she spent most of her time sitting around her house. It was a comfortable life, and she hated it. "Living alone is the pits," she says. "When you enjoy a conversation with a cat, things are pretty bad.

A few months after her husband's death, Marge decided to take matters into her own hands and got involved in programs at the Elks' Club. She joined a bowling team for the first time in 40 years. She soon made friends with another woman stuck alone at home, and the two started attending symphonies and church services together.

Now 81, she appreciates her friends more than ever. "When I get chances to laugh, reminisce, and share, I'm not thinking about how much my back aches or how much my feet hurt," she says. "Any situation improves when you have people around you."

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