Humans are hard-wired to desire the company of others. No matter our age, we have social needs which include being loved, community belonging and peer acceptance. However, the following factors can influence the degree to which we crave companionship.
While all older adults have social needs, those needs can differ when cultural and individual variants are accounted for. Some cultures engage and respect their elders, demanding their participation in daily affairs more than others. Yet even in such cultures, individuals may prefer to be alone and not want to have a wide circle of contacts. It’s important to keep in mind that social needs depend on the personality, desires, expectations, background, and culture of the older adult.
Proximity to Others
As individuals age, their circle of contacts tends to shrink and their ability to maintain face-to-face contact with family and friends diminishes. Relationships with loved ones and friends are paramount. However, contact with casual acquaintances, neighbours, and service people all contribute to the older adult’s need for connectivity and comfort.
Meaningful relationships can encompass neighbours, community members, friends and family. Such interactions deliver affection, purpose and respect. Even quick conversations with people at the bus stop can fill the social needs of older adults and buoy feelings of loneliness. Of course, a tight social network can be of great benefit in helping older adults maintain their independence and feel a sense of belonging. One obstacle to developing such a network may be the fear that older adults have of becoming a burden to those around them.
Relationships become stronger with reciprocity. Older adults must also be able to offer friendship, help, and support to others to feel that they are contributing. Activities such as volunteering and helping neighbours allow them to feel independent and purposeful.
Dealing with the Needs of Older Adults
Based on these discoveries, here are some recommendations for dealing with the social needs of older people: