It has been said that age is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity. The golden thread that runs through all stages of life is our human need for relationships. It is biologically and evolutionarily wired into us. Many seniors in today’s world live longer and more active lives than would have traditionally been the case. On the other hand, they also risk lives of greater isolation and loneliness, given that age-segregation is common in modern society but unheard of in traditional cultures. The science of connection helps us to think more deeply about what changes are needed to allow more people to thrive, and about what steps can be taken by individuals to keep their mental and physical health robust.
Here are some of the discoveries scientists have uncovered about the importance of connection in the senior years:
As more people live longer, we need to think not only about the kind of society we want to have, but the kinds of societies that it is possible to have. If the one we are living in is not the one we want, then putting relational changes at the heart of our vision is a good place to start. It is welcome to see the growing number of nurseries and schools who regularly visit care homes. It is encouraging to see talk of ‘grandparent leave’ being discussed by governmental representatives, albeit frustrating to see plans set aside rather than carried forward. It is hopeful to see the professional understanding of attachment being extended beyond the nursery years, taking in the whole of the human lifespan. The senior and elderly years have been the slowest to benefit from extension. It is worrying to see funding cut for day centres that provide company to those feeling isolated or lonely. Many more people now deserve to be part of this conversation: health professionals, care home staff, childcare policymakers, mental health staff, housing officers, holiday staff. Most of all, individuals deserve to know about the science of connection. This will not only help in answering questions about their own history, but will also prompt curiosity about how best to support younger generations who are now raising even young generations – an activity typically known by the title ‘grandparenting’.