The importance of friendship in retirement

Settlers Lifestyle Village believes friendship is one of the best ways to support residents’ emotional and physical well-being.

We are social creatures, and our need for connection is evident from birth. Throughout our lives, we form relationships with family, friends, and co-workers. These social ties provide us with emotional support, a sense of belonging, and a source of companionship. In late adulthood, these friendships can play an even more important role. As we age, our social circles can shrink. We retire from work, our kids move away, and loved ones pass away. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. That’s not what we want for our residents. Social isolation places older adults in jeopardy of both poor health and low psychological well-being (Blieszner, Ogletree & Adams, 2019).

This is why Settlers Lifestyle Village has designed its facility to encourage social interaction. We offer a range of amenities and common spaces for people to come together; our team is constantly looking for ways to help residents connect. According to Commonwealth champion weightlifter Precious McKenzie, our village has a strong sense of social connectivity. Precious McKenzie moved to Settlers more than a decade ago to be closer to the family on the North Shore. Not surprisingly he loves being in the gym, naming the well-attended twice-weekly aerobics classes as a highlight. His favourite village activity, however, is “lots of socialising and happy hours! The staff at Settlers are really wonderful . . . They put their heart and soul into this complex, and make sure everyone is happy and joining in. There is even a get-together for men, they bring us together for a meeting once a week. No one is isolated . . . You live longer if you aren’t [isolated]”.

He’s spot on, and he didn’t have to look for research to prove it – it’s his lived experience! But what does the research suggest about friendship and well-being in older people?

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For seniors, friendship is key for their health and mental well-being

Study after study has found that health and psychological well-being improve for seniors when they:

1. like and care about other people
2. have fun together
3. feel comfortable confiding in each other
4. remind each other to stay healthy (Blieszner & Adams, 1992). To put it another way – when they have good friends! The Golden Girls, a popular sitcom from the 1980s, is a non-factual but fun way to illustrate this. Settlers is a bit like this, albeit on a much larger scale and with men paying leading roles too!

Friendships help give meaning to older adults’ lives by conveying feelings of connectivity (Bruggencate, Luijkx, & Sturm, 2018). Friendship also provides companionship through mutual interests and shared activities (Huxhold, Miche, & Schüz, 2014).

Taking part in social activities is another important factor in aging well

The importance of participating in social activities has been identified as a key factor in aging well (Rowe & Khan, 1997). Having social connections is important for individual well-being (Pavot & Diener, 1993). Socially connected individuals tend to be healthier and more optimistic about their futures (Antonucci, 2001; Cohen & Janicki-Deverts, 2009). Subjective well-being refers to how happy an individual feels about his or her life. Providing individuals with the opportunity to engage in social activities contributes to subjective well-being (Berkman, Glass, Brissette, & Seeman, 2000).

Social isolation and loneliness can reduce health in older adults

Having unmet social needs can make you lonely and socially isolated. Social support is important for maintaining cognitive functioning and physical health in senior years (Béland, Zunzunegui, Alvarado, Otero, & del Ser, 2005; Holt-Lunstad, Smith, & Layton, 2010). People who have strong ties to family and friends are more likely to stay independent, have a sense of purpose in life, and have good physical and psychological health. For older adults, understanding the connection between friend support and psychological problems like depression is critical.

Santini and colleagues (2015) reviewed 51 studies (published between 2004 and 2014) that examined the effects of social support, social networks, and depression from around the world. They concluded that perceived emotional support within a large and diverse social network can protect against depression. An active friend network can also help buffer the effects of life events that may occur as we age.

What role does spaciousness play in friendship and wellbeing?

We value spaciousness in our villages because it provides more opportunities to participate in social activities. We’ve designed our village to encourage friendship and social interaction since there are common social spaces where residents can relax together and enjoy activities. But we’ve also taken great care when designing the homes of our residents.

Space for entertaining friends, family, and grandkids

An increase in living space (generally) represents an increase in personal freedom. In the UK, for example, having friends round, sitting in peace and quiet and eating as a family are all activities limited by lack of space (Robert-Hughes 2011).

Being able to entertain and have people around is important for connectivity. This was an important consideration in the design of our homes, apartments and villas. The spaciousness of each property lends itself to entertaining friends and family. And if you want to host a larger family gathering or even throw a grandchild’s birthday party, you have the option of booking a private function room.

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What role do retirement villages play in fostering friendship?

Retirement villages play an important role in fostering friendships. There are numerous ways that Settlers Retirement Village supports friendships among its residents.

Facilitating social gatherings and special interest groups are top of mind for our staff.

Mutual interests and shared activities offer older adults a chance to combat loneliness and feel connected to others. In addition to the psychological benefits of friendship, research shows that social connections are also important for maintaining cognitive functioning and physical health in old age. For this reason, the Village has invested in a number of amenities and activities to promote friendship:

  • Our hairdressing salon offers the chance for friends to get their hair cut, styled, and blow-dried together.
  • Residents can enjoy movie nights in our purpose-built theatre or one of our big-screen TV rooms.
  • A combination of laughter and exercise is the perfect tonic for physical and emotional health. For this purpose, our dance floor is ideal. Residents can have fun together while staying active.
  • It’s no secret that Kiwi BBQs are a mainstay of NZ life. So many wonderful afternoons and evenings have been spent enjoying great food and great company around the BBQ. Residents continue this tradition with purpose-built BBQ patios and outdoor areas.
  • Then there are the gym and exercise classes which Precious McKenzie considers a highlight. They help residents to stay fit and connect with each other at the same time.
  • Heated pools and spas are also a great way to relax, have fun and connect with others.
  • You can enjoy delicious meals together catered by our accomplished chefs.

Hobbies play an important role in subjective wellbeing, and when combined with social connection, they can have even greater benefits. Settlers Lifestyle Village goes beyond providing amenities to connect, we also offer a variety of activities to enjoy. At Settlers, we have a bloke’s shed for building, crafting and tinkering. You can continue to enjoy the activities you always have, in a supportive environment with ample social connections.

The staff at our village are some of the kindest and most caring people you will ever meet. They genuinely care about each and every one of our residents and always go above and beyond to make sure everyone feels a sense of belonging. A lot of effort is put into organising social activities to bring residents together, so they can form meaningful connections. It’s no wonder we were voted Lifestyle Village of The Year 2022! Our staff truly put their heart and soul into the village, and make sure everyone feels like part of the family. If you’re looking for a supportive community where you can form lasting friendships, come visit us. Our community understands the importance of friendship for health and psychological wellbeing.

Get in touch with the team at Settler’s Lifestyle Village today to see how we can help you ease into retirement happy, healthy, and connected!

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