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January 28, 2009 > Meaningful Friendships Can Promote Healthy Aging

Meaningful Friendships Can Promote Healthy Aging

Washington Hospital Senior Care Seminar Focuses on Maintaining Healthy Relationships

Getting together with friends and having someone you can talk to not only makes you feel better, it can improve your chances of living a longer life. But maintaining healthy relationships and making new friends isn't always easy, especially as we age.

"A good social network and loving relationships help to ward off depression and keep seniors from feeling isolated and alone," said Vivian I. Silva, MSW, a gerontologist and social worker who is presenting an upcoming seminar at Washington Hospital on healthy aging. "But as we age, we tend to lose friends to life circumstances. They may leave the area to be near their grown children or maybe they move to a nursing home, or they may even die."

Silva will present "Intimacy and Healthy Aging" on Friday, February 6, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., at the Conrad E. Anderson, MD Auditorium at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont. To register, call (800) 963-7070.

The seminar will examine the aging process and the role relationships have in healthy aging. Silva will discuss ways to stay socially active and maintain meaningful relationships with family and friends.

Research shows that strong friendships improve longevity. One study, which followed nearly 1,500 people over age 70 for 10 years, found that those with the strongest network of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends.

According to the researchers, friends may exert a healthy influence over potentially risky behaviors like smoking and drinking, as well as have important effects on mood, self-esteem, and coping during difficult times.

"When you have people around who encourage you, it lifts your spirits," Silva said. "Friends can help improve your outlook on life, which in turn improves your overall health and wellbeing."

But many adults in their 70s and 80s find it difficult to make new friends, especially with members of the opposite sex. "Men and women in this age group don't always know how to be friends with each other; they weren't raised that way," Silva said.


Building Your Social Network

Older adults face a number of other social challenges as well, including they may be less physically mobile and able to participate in social events, conversations can be difficult when hearing and eyesight start to fail, they often have less money to spend on entertainment and recreational outings, and older adults are more likely to have health problems and suffer from depression, isolating them from others.

"I really encourage people to get out there if they are physically able," Silva said. "Join a club, go to your neighborhood senior center, volunteer, reconnect with old friends. If you keep yourself isolated, you miss out on the opportunity to meet new people."

Many older adults desperately want closer, more intimate relationships, but they don't know how to get them. Silva will stress the importance of good communication in making new friends and deepening your existing relationships.

"It's harder for people to keep the lines of communication open as they age," she said. "Often older people hide what's going on with them. They may not want their families or friends to know about their health problems or how lonely they are feeling. Instead they need to learn how to say, 'please come over, I'm lonely.'"

Silva will provide tips for communicating more effectively and will also answer participants' questions. To register for the seminar, call (800) 963-7070.

For more information about Washington Hospital and its programs and services, visit www.whhs.com.

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