Create a Circle of Caring Now- Enjoy the Benefits for Years!Feb 21, 2023
“Of all the experiences we need to survive and thrive, it is the experience of relating to others that is the most meaningful and important,” said Louis Cozolino, professor of psychology at Pepperdine University.
Change is constant, and we can’t know that those around us now will be there for us in the future. According to one study, there were 7.2 potential family caregivers for every person 80 and older in 2010, but that ratio is likely to fall to 4 to 1 by 2030, and could sink to 3 to 1 by 2050. Whether we don’t have relatives to rely on, or they’re not local, or for other reasons, taking the initiative to create our own “Circle of Caring” is key to aging well.
What is a Circle of Caring?
Social engagement is a key factor in enjoying life at any age. It’s been correlated with not just enjoying life but also with overall health- physical as well as social and emotional. A study by the NIH showed those with strong social connections reduced their mortality rate by 2.3 times for men and 2.8 times for women. And for seniors, it is even more important as roles change, relationships end due to moves or deaths, and capabilities diminish because of changes in health. So a Circle of Caring is basically a plan for how you can maintain and even grow your connections, redefine what roles you want to play, and identify options to maintain these even when life happens.
It’s just as important to our well-being to give support as it is to receive it, and elders are no exception. This is most likely because it demonstrates independence and usefulness to others. Mentoring is a great way to build relationships. Cozolino wrote: “Neurological changes in the aging brain may contribute to emotional regulation and an increased ability to relate compassionately to others. That’s partly because the effects of fear and anxiety on the brain tend to lessen as people grow older, enabling them to see social situations with less defensiveness and more clarity.”
And now the objections start: “I’m too tired, too shy, too old, too this or that…” The reality is that social isolation has negative effects such as hopelessness, depression, and decreased well-being, according to a Psychology Today article. Many of us have experienced some form of those over the last couple of years so it won’t come as a surprise. It’s definitely worth putting in the work ahead of time to develop camaraderie and connectedness, and that means start now.
Where to start
If you’ve retired from full-time work, you’ve probably already investigated various opportunities as a means to keep busy, but now I invite you to look at it through the lens of creating community. Maybe you’re still working but want to prioritize your free time, or you’re in a second or third career that doesn’t require all your attention.
Key questions to ask as you look for community include:
- Are there different generations involved? Getting to know younger people keeps us engaged and opens our eyes to different ways of looking at life- and you might get “adopted” by one of them.
- Will my brain be stimulated by innovation and expression of new ideas? If you’re doing the same activities you’ve always done, you’re missing opportunities to grow.
- Do I feel useful and is it a positive environment? That will be the motivation to keep at it.
Another option is to bring people you know together and form a community around a hobby or interest, a location, or learning something new. Keep in mind that a recent study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found it takes roughly 50 hours for someone to move from acquaintance to casual friend, 90 hours to go to simple friend status, and more than 200 hours before you can consider someone your close friend. So making regular get-togethers a habit is key. One more reason to bring people together is that when your own connections know each other, you’re more likely to feel supported. Encourage your friends to bring their friends, and multiply the effect. One more tip: think of ways to feel like a kid again! Play is definitely not overrated.
That’s fine while you are mobile, but there may come a time when your mobility or endurance is limited. Thanks to the pandemic, many of us have gotten comfortable taking part in online meetings, concerts, classes, courses, and more. It requires a good connection to the internet so this is not accessible for everyone. If possible, get comfortable being online now so if you need a telehealth appointment or hear of a class you want to take, you’re set up. Ask a teenager in your life to show you what to do! Since the human brain is almost endlessly adaptive throughout the life cycle, change is as possible for older people as for infants.
Here are two sources of support for elders and disabled folks that everyone should know about:
- Area Agency on Aging- each county in the US has an office which exists to support caregivers as well as aging or disabled individuals
- In Kitsap County we have a CARES firefighter who works with a City Geriatric Specialist to help seniors throughout North Kitsap stay safe in their homes with less reliance on emergency services. A mobile unit can be deployed from the Poulsbo central fire station.
What is the end goal of creating a Circle of Caring? It is not just to have people and organizations we can call on when we need help. When it is our turn to give, we share our resources freely knowing that we can ask for assistance too. We humans are social beings, and being together has so many benefits: better mental health, cardiovascular health, immunological functioning, and cognitive performance; it helps calm our stress-response system; and may even help you live longer. A robust Circle of Caring will serve you beginning now, and throughout the rest of your days.
Stay connected with news and updates!
Join our mailing list to receive my latest news.
We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.