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5 Reasons to Strengthen Relationships with Older Adults

How spending more time with older family members can boost your well-being.

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Source: Pexels

We know that the bonds between parents and children can have a positive effect on physical and emotional well-being. But we often don't realize the positive impact that bonds with other older family members can have on our well-being (test your well-being with this well-being quiz).

What are the real benefits of strengthening these relationships? According to research, there are several.

The Benefits of Strong Relationships With Older Family Members

A recent study on children and teens showed that those who had strong relationships with their grandparents were less likely to exhibit emotional and behavioral problems. This influence is most evident when the grandparent/grandchild relationship complements a close relationship between parents and children.

But the benefits of these relationships are two-fold. For an older family relative, a connection to younger generations exposes them to new ideas and activities. This physical and mental stimulation can slow the rate of cognitive decline, improve physical health, and increase longevity.

An Australian study found that grandmothers who watched their grandchildren on a regular basis performed better on cognitive tests than those who did not have regular contact with grandchildren.

It appears that the benefits of close relationships with older family members even extend to adult grandchildren. One study even found that grandparents and adult grandchildren who were emotionally close were each less likely to experience depressive symptoms.

Here are five more reasons why you might consider devoting extra attention to strengthening your relationship with your older family members.

1. Older Family Members Are a Resource for Life Wisdom

Most of us seek advice from friends when we face an uncertain situation. All too often, we fail to think about getting advice from our older family members whose lives are comprised of successes and failures woven into a rich tapestry of life lessons.

Whatever circumstance you may be facing, there is a good chance that your older family member has lived through something similar and can offer first-hand advice to help you navigate the road ahead.

2. Understanding Our Roots Gives Us a Sense of Belonging

Strong family bonds that span multiple generations can strengthen our core identity and feed our innate desire for connectedness and belonging. Studies show that young children who have a strong sense of social grounding are better able to withstand challenging experiences, such as bullying or the breakup of their parents’ marriage.

Finding out more about who you are and where you come from can provide you with a sense of control over your life when things might otherwise seem hopeless.

3. Learning About the Resilience of Our Ancestors Can Help Us Face Our Own Challenges

Stories of triumph over adversity can be found in every generation. These stories of survival through war, overcoming racial and religious persecution, and other hardships can be a source of comfort and inspiration as you face your own challenges. When you talk to your loved one about the defining events in their lives, be sure to delve beyond the basic names, dates, and places by asking them what they learned from the event or how it impacted the course of their life.

4. Close Ties With Older Family Members Can Increase Our Sense of Compassion

Getting to know older family members on a deeper level provides you with insight into their quirks and flaws as well as the challenges that they have faced at various points in their lives, which can deepen your compassion and make you a more effective caregiver.

5. Strong Relationships With Other Generations Make Us Better Members of Society

The skills of compassion, empathy, and resilience that we learn and cultivate through our relationships with our grandparents and other older family members translate to other aspects of our lives.

Here are some examples of how these strong relationships with older family members are beneficial:

Ways to Strengthen Your Bond With Your Older Family Member

It can be easy to neglect relationships with our grandparents as we become adults. Work, other family obligations, and geography can make regular contact difficult; however, there are some steps that you can take to ensure that the bond remains strong.

  1. Intentionally schedule contact with your older loved one. This can be a regular weekly lunch date or a phone call or video chat if you live across the country.
  2. Tell older family members how much you value and appreciate them. They may already know it, but it is still good to hear it.
  3. Ask for their advice or help with a problem or project. They will feel needed, and you will learn something in the process.
  4. Show an interest in their lives and what they are doing. For example, if they mention that their church or club is having a rummage sale or fundraiser, surprise them by stopping by or making a donation.
  5. Surprise them with an unexpected act of kindness. This can be a small act such as mowing their lawn or offering to pick up groceries and it is an easy way to show that you are thinking of them.
  6. Remember that not every visit with your loved one has to be a major family event or reunion. Invite your loved one to join you during the ordinary moments of your life. Some of the best conversations can occur during a car ride to the market or a stroll around the block.

Fostering a relationship with an older family member is like tending a garden. It takes time, patience, and planning. In the end, however, your efforts will provide you with what may be the most dependable and rewarding relationship that you can ever hope to have.

This article was co-written by Christian Worstell, a health and lifestyle writer living in Raleigh, NC.

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