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Make a Friend Day: Social Interaction and Aging

In John Prine’s “Hello in There,” the singer talks about the challenges of loneliness on older age. Released in 1971, when the singer was a precocious 26 years old, the song tells the story of a couple whose children have grown up and fled the nest. In the final lines, the singer implores you to stop and say hello to seniors who might appreciate the company.

The challenges of loneliness in older age are nothing new, but thankfully, today’s seniors have more options than ever to engage with friends and stay connected with people, whether it’s through FaceTiming far-flung family members, chatting on social media, or joining the Silver Sneakers program at the local YMCA. And of course, senior living communities like Brandermill Woods cater to seniors who seek an active lifestyle, want to be able to make good friends in retirements, and enjoy a full calendar of social events.

As the polar vortex ravages the Midwest and icy temperatures settling in around Central Virginia, many of us have spent the past few weeks hunkered down rather than going out. If you’re feeling a little bit of the winter blues, you might be interested to know that February 11 has been designated “National Make a Friend Day”—a day where Americans are encouraged to say hello to strangers, strike up a conversation with someone new and, perhaps, make a new friend.

Countless studies have demonstrated time and again the value of social interaction, particularly for seniors. According to the National Institute on Aging, social activities:

  • Correlate positively with good health
  • May lower interleukin-6, which is associated with age-related diseases
  • Encourage physical activity and may lower blood pressure
  • Help stave off depression

Depression in particular is a key concern for seniors—because of the social isolation as well as other changes in the brain.

So, what can you do for “National Make a Friend Day”? What if you are naturally shy, or have lost touch with your old pals as life has gotten in the way? Here are four tips for starting fresh this month:

1. Begin with a smile.

Friendships revolve around trust, and a smile is a first step toward building a relationship. An article in the Atlantic recently explored why Americans smile more than other nations, and the writer suggested it’s because we have an immigrant history. When two people can’t communicate with words, a smile is a way to indicate friendship.

2. Look up your old chums.

Facebook has its share of problems, but its original premise was humans want to connect. If you haven’t already looked up some of your old friends, take a little time to send a note to your best friend from childhood or your old college roommate. You might be surprised to discover what they’re up to—and how easily you slide into your old friendship.

3. Understand that friendships take work.

Sometimes your friends will call you for a lunch date, and sometimes you have to be the one to call them. All we have in this life is our time, so we should invest our time where it matters most. Friendships can be one of the most valuable investments you can make.

4. Say “Hello in There.”

We all have relatives or friends who might live alone and may not have as many opportunities for social engagement. On “Make a Friend Day,” we encourage you to call them up, or at least drop them a line to say you’re thinking about them. It might brighten their day, and will make you feel good, too.