A recent study out of the University of California, San Francisco concluded that loneliness plays a significant role in the decline of the elderly.
Researchers tracked 1,600 elderly participants (average age of 71), and found that despite socioeconomic status and quality of health, the lonely consistently held higher mortality rates. Nearly 23% of participants classified as “lonely” died within six years of the study, as opposed to only 14% of those that reported adequate companionship.
In an interview with the New York Times, Massachusetts General Hospital senior geriatric social worker Barbara Moscowitz, explained, “the need we’ve had our entire lives — people who know us, value us, who bring us joy — that never goes away.”
The elderly place great value in relationships, oftentimes overlooking family for close friendships. “They’re pretty tolerant of friends’ imperfections and idiosyncrasies, more than young adults,” she said. “You bring a lot more experience to your friendships when you’re older. You know what’s worth fighting about and not worth fighting about.”
It comes down to important relational skills, Rosemary Blieszner, a professor of human development at Virginia Tech, told The New York Times — skills that our grandparents have had a lifetime to hone.
Aside from spending time with your elderly relatives, it’s important to encourage interaction with people their own age outside of the family. Contrary to popular belief, elderly tend to thrive in independent or assisted living environments as they provide ample opportunity to connect and interact.
Spending time with elderly family members is necessary not only for their health, but yours as well. You have a limited time to tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience that your grandparents and parents have accumulated over the years. Make the best of it. You’ll only ever regret the time you didn’t spend.