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Hold Your Friends Close and Stangers Closer

Miss your friends, your older loved ones and those summer get togethers in the backyard?  We can get together at distance with friends and family in manageable numbers while maintaining distance, but there is no chatting around the water cooler or dropping by the grandparents or social hour at a local establishment like there once was.  All of that is mostly lost, at least if you’ve been following the guidelines, and the isolation you and your older loved ones feel is not unique.  Odd to talk about isolation and then offer that you are not alone, but…

Research is showing that strangers may be every bit as important to your emotional well-being and your older loved ones’ well-being as the friends that you all may now be missing.  If you’re like a lot of folks, you are walking more, perhaps with a dog in tow.  Or you many be shopping for groceries in the less crowded grocery stores.  Or you may be at home to have the mail delivered as your retired parents are and meet the letter carrier or the delivery person from those on-line purchases we all have been making in greater number.

I am not exactly an extrovert, but I always make it a point to at least say hello to all of these people with whom I have casual contact.  And my husband, the extrovert in the family, may spend minutes chatting up a neighbor we had not met until the recent months or the person from the pizza parlor who delivered tonight’s guilty pleasure or someone eight blocks from home on his long walks with our now physically fit dog.  Well, those casual encounters may be helping his and my mental health in a way that we used to think only close friends or confidents could according to a book I came across.  The book, titled “Consequential Strangers,” is co-authored by a psychologist and a science reporter who analyzed the importance of those “weak ties” that we all have on a daily basis.  In fact, the authors contend, those strangers are as important as family in best friends in giving us a strong grounding in the world.  And the authors further point out that the more ties we have with “consequential strangers” the less likely one is to become depressed.  Some of the benefits also include better sleep patterns, more productive work effort and just about all of those parts of daily living we value.

To truly be healthier during this extended break from normal, ask strangers how they are faring…and then how their family’s health is…and maybe what they have been bingeing lately.  You will have primed the pump for your better health.  Now, do the same for your older family members and friends and you are passing it forward.  Remember, we all will get through this, and we will get through it in much better shape if we hold our strangers closer.

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia. 


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