As we age, we can get set in our ways and that includes long-term friendships that have weathered the test of time. But older age also provides an opportunity to expand our circle of people we call friends to include individuals of all different backgrounds and ages. Limiting our friendships to only peers can close the door on the possibility for exciting personal growth and a expanded view of the world.
Older adults can learn about new technology, trends or a different perspective from younger friends who may also push them to try new things and stay more active. Younger or middle-aged adults will gain a new appreciation of their older friends from their lifetime of experiences. Mixing up your friends group, through neighborhood connections, classes at the local community center or exercise clubs can enhance and energize your life at any age.
A “generation gap” friendship can be mutually beneficial; older adults can offer sage career or personal advice and are more likely to be honest, often not caring as much about what people think of them. And having a close group of friends with shared interest is linked with better quality of life as well as longevity.
Reaching out to an older neighbor or book club member can be a wonderful opportunity for younger adults to gain a meaningful and mutually beneficial relationship. Seniors may be able to offer expertise in surprising areas and help younger friends see beyond their daily worries to the bigger picture; maybe even help jump start a dead battery or bake cookies with the kids. And younger adults can look out for older friends if they are ill or can’t get out for groceries during a particularly bad winter storm. Having an older mentor, especially for those who lost a parent young or don’t have extended family nearby, can be a life-safer for young families and a role model for growing children, helping them see the contribution people of all ages can make.
From a practical side, having friends of all ages will ensure that as we grow old and our long-term friends, spouses and sibling pass away, we will not be all alone. The relationship between caregivers or family members is different than that of social friendship. A 2013 study published in the Oxford Journals of Gerontology found that because friendships are voluntary in nature, not obligatory, they are a better source of companionship and more emotionally satisfying. By engaging with friends in social or cultural programs, seniors report better mental health and quality of life. Fostering a multi-generational friendship group will not only help seniors stay engaged, it may very well make life more enjoyable while preventing or delaying cognitive and physical decline in older age.