In the hit Broadway musical “Wicked,” Glenda the Good Witch sings “Popular,” one of the show’s catchiest and most, well… popular songs. In it, she explains to Elphaba, a.k.a., the Wicked Witch of the West, about the importance of being well-liked.
It’s all about popular!
It’s not about aptitude
It’s the way you’re viewed
So it’s very shrewd to be
Very, very popular…
While I’m not sure that these lyrics would fall under the “life advice” category, it turns out that being popular is important, especially as we age.
Cliques aren’t just for teenagers
A recent study by a sociologist out of the University of Toronto and the gerontology program at Purdue University made some interesting discoveries about how residents of a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) interacted with one another. Markus Schafer, the sociologist, spent a year embedded within a CCRC during which time he interviewed and observed residents, noting who they socialized with and how often. Once he gathered this data, he connected the dots to examine the residents’ social support networks.
Schafer’s analysis revealed that the healthier seniors tended to be more popular and had a wider circle of friends (i.e., people who they identified as a friend and who IDed them as a friend too). On the flip side, the seniors who were in poorer health tended to have a smaller group of associates and were less frequently identified as other residents’ friend, regardless of the fact that they may have noted a friendship with healthier peers.
It could be a chicken or egg situation: Do seniors who are healthier have more friends, or are seniors who have more friends, healthier? It’s tough to say, but Schafer did observe that “the healthier people were, the more selective they seemed to be about their social circles.”
Loneliness is unhealthy for seniors
While Schafer’s research was conducted within a CCRC setting, the findings can be extended into the larger community and show the importance of interpersonal relationships for seniors. In fact, further research conducted by Schafer and his team revealed that seniors who had more interconnectivity among their social network (i.e., friends who know the senior’s other friends) had a lower incidence of elder abuse.
And as we age, our very lives may-well depend upon having close relationships with other people. A research project performed at University College London in 2013 determined that for seniors–both men and women–loneliness and infrequent interaction with family and friends can actually shorten their lifespan, independent of other health factors. While a majority of seniors say they aspire to age in place in their home, the research suggests that this decision can lead to increased isolation and could ultimately result in a decline in health and premature death.
Friends for life at the CCRC
Social opportunities and increased human interaction are among the numerous advantages to relocating from your home to a retirement community like a CCRC. A few examples:
- CCRCs offer a variety of clubs and activities, allowing residents with similar interests to meet each other and socialize. Book clubs, sports enthusiast meetups, scrapbooking groups…there’s something for everyone.
- The dining room at the CCRC is a great place to meet new friends. While smaller tables are typically an option, most communities will also have tables where larger groups can enjoy a meal together.
- The retirement community’s event coordinator is like the cruise director of the CCRC, planning fun social events throughout the month for residents to mix and mingle with one another.
- Remember the college years when it was so easy to make new friends because everyone was in the same place in life? It’s a similar situation at a CCRC–many residents automatically have things in common to talk about from life experiences to grandchildren to life-long hobbies.
Perhaps even more important than the many social opportunities offered by a CCRC are the progressive levels of care provided by the facility if and when a senior’s health or mobility does deteriorate. And should this happen, CCRC residents will not become as isolated as the likely would if they still lived in their own home. In addition to receiving the proper care, the CCRC resident will benefit from friends and, if they have one, their spouse or partner living nearby, making visits simpler and more frequent.
Support from the community
The saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child,” but the same logic may hold true for seniors: it takes a community of friends and family to ensure seniors’ Golden Years are safe, healthy, and happy. If you are interested in learning about continuing care retirement communities in your desired retirement location, try our community search tool for free!
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