My 83-year-old grandfather takes daily early morning walks with other lolos in his barangay in Quezon City. Usually, my lolo is the oldest in the group. He tells me that most are regulars, but every so often, a new face joins in. “I initially started walking for my health, but now I do it because I enjoy the company, too. We get to talk while we walk,” he says.
It's a simple morning routine, but based on a new study recently featured in The New York Times, engaging with other people and forming quality relationships will help him age better and maybe even live longer.
According to the study, which involved 1,700 adult Americans over the age of 60, loneliness can have a host of ill-effects including increased risk of age-related physical and mental decline, and even death. Over the span of six years, researchers from the University of California tracked the participants’ health and asked them questions related to loneliness, isolation, and companionship. Even after considering factors such as socio-economic status and medical conditions, results showed that loneliness had a significant impact on the lives of the elderly.
Lonely participants were more likely to experience a decline in the ability to do everyday activities and tasks like climbing stairs. And, nearly 23 percent died in the six-year span of the study, compared to the 14 percent of their non-lonely counterparts.
“Loneliness is a common source of distress, suffering, and impaired quality of life in older persons,” says the study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Feelings of isolation can be difficult for anyone, but for the elderly, its effects can be severely damaging. Unfortunately, research notes that the prevalence of loneliness may be higher for those in the age group as well.
Having other people around is not enough to combat loneliness, according to researchers, as a large number of the lonely elderly participants were married or did not live alone. Developing and maintaining “satisfying interpersonal relationships” is the key, they hypothesize.
The takeaway? Take the time to schedule regular hang outs with the grandparents. Keep relationships with elderly relatives alive. It’s not that difficult as older adults can have better relational skills than younger people, says Rosemary Blieszner, a professor of human development at Virginia Tech.
“They’re pretty tolerant of friends’ imperfections and idiosyncrasies, more than young adults,” she told The New York Times. “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.”
Make sure the kids create a bond with lolo and lola as well. A separate study, published in Menopause in 2014, found that grandmothers who spend time caring for their grandkids had lower risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders.
As an integrated day care and retirement home shows, children and the elderly can make a perfect pair: our children need all the love and attention they can get, and our elderly have so much of it to give. Lolos and lolas can also be infinitely more patient and kind, a good balance for stressed-out, exhausted parents.
Spending quality time with our parents, helping them nurture a bond with their apos, and encouraging them to forge longlasting relationships with other people benefit them -- and the rest of the family.