Monday, May 5, 2014
In an article for the May issue of the Journal of Gerontology (Series B: Psychological Sciences), a team of international researchers present a report on "Benefits of Having Friends in Older Ages: Different Effects of Informal Social Activities on Well-Being in Middle-Aged and Older Adults." The article is technical, but the implications and conclusions of their research are persuasive. It seems that having "friends" is more important to life satisfaction for older adults than it is for middle-aged adults. And their research points to the importance of friendships rather than "just" relationships with spouses and children. The authors conclude:
"Our results have strong implications for mental health promotion in older adults, as they suggest supporting older adults in building and maintaining friend-based social networks, for example, by encouraging volunteering in old age in elder-helping-elder programs . . . or programs aiming at increasing informal social interactions, such as cultural programs, . . . university programs, . . . or occupational therapy programs."
I suspect that one potential limitation of the study may be the difficulty in measuring whether a lowered feeling of "life satisfaction" is actually a trigger for withdrawal from friends and friendship-based activities, rather than being simply an outcome of not being engaged with friends. The "chicken or egg" question of cause and effect? Nonetheless, the research does underscore the potential importance of engagement in increasing the long-range potential for positive feelings and mood. So call up your friends and invite them on an outing; don't wait for them to call you.