Posted on 30/07/2019

The importance of building a friendship with grandparents

The importance of building a friendship with grandparents

In support of the International Day of Friendship, we’re looking at the benefits of forming friendships with older people, in particular, the relationship between grandchildren and their grandparents.

In 2011, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared that the International Day of Friendship was to be officially celebrated on 30th July each year, with an aim to promote peace across cultures, whilst sharing values of cooperation and kindness. It’s an official recognition that friendship is an essential part of being human – all around the globe.

In this article, we’re exploring the importance of friendship. Since it is the school summer holidays in the UK, we know that many children will be cared for at some stage in the next few weeks by their grandparents, so we’re looking at the benefits of this beautiful relationship between the younger and older generations. We also explore the feelings of loneliness amongst older people, and how to befriend someone who may be a different generation to you.

Grandparents and grandkids: benefits to wellbeing

We all know that family is important. As children, we form our first friendships with family members, most often siblings and cousins of a similar age, but some of us are also lucky enough to be able to form friendships with our grandparents. There are numerous benefits to grandparents and grandchildren having a strong bond and spending time together:

Benefits to children

  • Grandparents are sources of security and support, and research by the University of Oxford has shown that children who have grandparents in their lives are less likely to have emotional and behavioural problems, and are able to better cope with traumatic events such as bullying or divorce
  • Kids are less likely to experience depression as adults if they are close to their grandparents
  • Research shows that children who have strong links to their older relatives and understand about their family history and heritage are more likely to be resilient, and able to cope with stress

"Here's me with my wonderful grandma celebrating her 80th birthday in style. I have so many fond memories blackberry picking, making jam tarts and playing bingo. I still love to play bingo with her and grandad now. Couldn't do without my grandparents." - Amy

"This is me and my Grandad Malc. He has Alzheimer’s and every Wednesday I take him out for coffee and cake. Everyone who sees his face just loves him! It’s just such a shame that Alzheimer’s is taking over his mind. That’s why I like to make these memories." - Suzie

Benefits to grandparents

  • Spending time with grandchildren actually decreases a person’s risk of developing chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke because grandchildren are likely to keep a grandparent more active, help relieve tension through fun and laughter, and create a positive frame of mind
  • Caring for grandchildren creates social connection, which is important to help reduce the risk of depression and dementia
  • Showing affection to grandchildren by way of hugs and holding hands promotes the release of the ‘love chemical’ oxytocin, which is a proven stress-reliever, helping to reduce anxiety and even aid digestion, improving conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome

"This is my 10 year old daughter with her grandad who has Alzheimer's; the bond they have is unbreakable, pretty amazing. We found out about 7/8 years ago that he had Alzheimer's and that it was progressing quite quickly - he also has lewy body dementia. For a 10 year old she's quite amazing - she feeds him, is able to calm him & its amazing to see. Very proud of both my heroes!" - Nikita

"This is a photo of my family at this years' Disability Awareness Day (DAD), which includes my grandson Jamie & granddaughter Ellie. As the founder of DAD, it felt awesome to have the support of my grandchildren during this important annual event. All three of my grandchildren are a pleasure to have around." - Dave Thompson MBE DL, Founder & CEO of Warrington Disability Partnership

The friendships with our own grandparents

Being a company that supports older people around the country, at NRS Healthcare we love our grandparents and we really value our friendship with them. Take Lex, our Digital Content Manager, she is really close to her Nanna Bea, who has helped out in the NRS office many times, such as when she modelled our new walking trolley and rollator products last year.

Lex also told us the story of how Nanna Bea had a fall and broke her wrist once, which took a while to heal due to her osteoporosis. Nanna Bea benefited from buying a Neptune Bath Lift to help her get in and out of the bath, and loved it. Speaking about her friendship with Nanna Bea, Lex said:

“Some people have huge families, but not me. I have my Mum and my Nanna – that’s it! Because there’s only the three of us we are very close knit and I’ve always thought of my Nanna not just as a friend, but also a second mum.

“When I was younger, Mum worked full time so I spent a lot of my childhood after school with Nanna, telling her about my day, goofing around and, of course, being spoilt rotten (as is a Nanna’s prerogative!) Mum, Nanna and I lived together from when I was four, right through to when I left for university at 18. I honestly can’t imagine my life without Nanna in it. She has, and always will be, there for me – whether as a shoulder to cry on, someone to laugh with or someone to depend on when times get rough. She would honestly do anything for me, and I would do the same for her.”

Then, there’s Emma, who sadly lost her Nan Freda to Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago. When asked about her beloved Nan, she said:

“I do miss her so much. She was such an important person in my life. I loved spending time with her, from childhood right up to being an adult. I remember her playing silly games with us all the time. My sister and I must have worn her out! As I got older, I loved making her laugh with my stories about school, work or going out. She always listened and she had so many of her own stories as well - I liked finding out about her past. She was definitely my friend, not just a grandparent.”

Emma’s friendship with her maternal grandmother has also therefore shaped the importance she places on her own daughter having a great relationship with her grandparents.

“My 3-and-a-half-year-old loves going to Nanny and Grandad’s house, and they’re a great help with childcare. They play all day long with her and give her their full attention. They are quite young grandparents, being only nearly 60, but I truly think being around their three grandchildren will help them stay youthful and well for a long, long time.”

Making friends with older people

We hear a lot in the news about loneliness amongst the older population, and research shows that loneliness may increase a person’s risk of dying early by 29%. Age UK research shows that within 6 years, there are likely to be 2 million people experiencing loneliness, and that currently half a million older people may go at least five to six days without seeing another person. Similarly, research by the charity Sense claims that up to 50% of disabled people will be lonely each day.

If you are an older or disabled person with few opportunities to engage with other people, there are sources of support and advice available to you, to help you make new friends and connect with others. The Silver Line is a charity that provides an advice helpline, and can arrange regular friendship calls or put you in touch with local groups and services where you may be able to build friendships with other people.

If you’re interested in forming new friendships with those who are older, there are lots of things you can do in your local community, for example:

  • Take time to chat – say a friendly hello to your neighbour or strike up a conversation with an older person in a shop; you could be the only person they speak to that day
  • Volunteer – if you have some free time, contact a local care home or older person’s charity to find out what opportunities there are for building friendships in your area. Volunteering is good for your soul, your general health and wellbeing, so it is beneficial for you and the person you’re befriending
  • Offer to help – some people who are older or disabled and live alone or with limited support may benefit from your offer of help. For example, maybe they would like to go to the shop but find it difficult to get there on their own? If you know someone in a situation like this, ask if they need anything, and offer practical solutions. They may decline, but if you don’t offer, you’ll never know

If we all become more aware of loneliness, and the importance of friendship, we can work together across our communities to notice when people are struggling or feeling disconnected, and find ways to bring a little love into their lives. This heart-warming story about a group of young men who noticed an older woman eating a meal on her own in a restaurant, really highlights how important it is to be aware of what other people might be feeling or going through, and to offer simple acts of kindness and friendship. The woman was dining alone, when one of the three men saw her and asked if he and his friends could join her. They got chatting and she told them her story – it was actually her wedding anniversary, and her husband had recently passed away. This lovely gesture from the young men gave the widow someone to talk to on a difficult evening, and they have since kept in touch.

So, on this International Day of Friendship, why not promise to be more aware of those little acts that are possible every day, to form new friendships and make people feel better about their own lives? Call your parents and grandparents – better still, pay them a visit. Look after each other and the world will be a much friendlier place.

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