Inviting Grandma over for dinner may actually extend her life—and increase its quality—a new study shows.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found that loneliness plays a large role in the decline so often associated with old age. The study followed 1,600 adults, with an average age of 71—despite controlling for socioeconomic status and health, the lonely consistently held higher mortality rates. Nearly 23% of lonely participants died within six years of the study, as opposed to only 14% of those that reported adequate companionship.
"The need we've had our entire lives—people who know us, value us, who bring us joy—that never goes away," Barbara Moscowitz, senior geriatric social worker at Massachusetts General Hospital, explained to The New York Times.
The elderly place great value in those relationships, so much so that they often overlook a great deal more than their children or even their grandchildren do. It comes down to important relational skills, Rosemary Blieszner, a professor of human development at Virginia Tech, told The New York Times—skills that our grandparents have had a lifetime to hone.
"They're pretty tolerant of friends' imperfections and idiosyncrasies, more than young adults," she said. "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."
Beyond inviting our older relatives and friends into our homes, it's important to encourage elderly relationships—which is why, despite popular belief, older folks tend to thrive in independent or assisted living environments. These living arrangements provide more ways to mingle, to connect, to thrive.
Spending quality time with Grandma and Grandpa helps them, but it benefits us, as well—the symbiotic relationship is undeniable. They get the companionship and conversation so crucial to every day life, and we get their stories, their hugs and, best of all, those famous, secret recipe cookies.