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Feature Articles - Aging


Friendship is important to older adults

Nina Chen, Ph.D., former Human Development Specialist, Jackson County, University of Missouri Extension


Three older male friends enjoying breakfast together in a cafeMany studies have shown the positive benefits of friendship on social, emotional and physical well-being. Having a strong circle of friends can be a good boost for aging hearts and can help the body’s autoimmune system resist disease. People who have one or more good friends are in better health than those who have only casual friends or no friends.

Because of physical changes, loss and retirement, friendship is very important for older people. In many cases, friends are as important as families. Many people turn to their friends first when they encounter crisis because of the distance of their family.

People without friends are likely to feel isolated and lonely. In the U.S., one in three women and one in seven men aged 65 or older lives alone. Men usually have a harder time dealing with widowhood than women. About two-thirds of older men reported that they did not have a close friend, and 16 percent of widows reported having no friends. Older adults living alone need to reach out to friends for companionship, support and human contact.

Casual friendships can help, but one very close friend can do so much to help relieve stress and depression. Close friendship provides emotional support as friends comfort, help, share and inform each other. In addition to emotional support, friendship can help enrich a person’s physical, mental and social health and help us adjust to changes through the rewarding and challenging times of life.

If you don’t have a friend, take the initiative to be a friend to someone else. For instance, join social clubs, civic groups, volunteer organizations, community events, church activities, etc. These are good places to meet people and build a good relationship. When you attend a group, have something to say. Be informed by reading news, magazines and books, and find opportunities to speak to other people without waiting for them to initiate. It is also very important to listen to what the person is saying to you. Remember, if you want to have a friend, you must be a friend.



Chen, N. (2001). The meaning of aging. Journal of Extension. Vol. 39, No. 6.

Matthews, W. (1993). The magic of friendship. North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.

Meyers, S. (1993). Friendships in later years. University of Minnesota Extension.


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Last update: Monday, July 31, 2017