Are you having trouble loading this page? Click here to view a text-only version.

Stories

Relationships and Health

Raeann LeBlancRaeann G. LeBlanc, DNP, ANP/GNP-BC, CHPN, University of Massachusetts AmherstRaeann G LeBlanc is an Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Professor, and Researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Raeann can be reached This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 413-545-6630 if you would like to discuss this topic or share a question or idea.

Relationships matter to our health, but how exactly does this change over time, and when does it matter most? These are questions to answer in harnessing the health benefit of our social relationships.

“Key findings from this study were that positive social relationships resulted in improved self-care activities, improved mental health, and vitality.”

Research conducted at the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Nursing, funded through a grant by the Rehabilitation Nurse Foundation, explored the influence of social relationships on health. A central aspect of this research was to better understand social relationships' influence on living with and managing multiple chronic conditions, and the influence of close social relationships on individual care practices and health outcomes.

This study was specifically focused on the experience of persons age 65 and older managing chronic health conditions and their relationships with persons close to them. This study took place between 2017-2018. Participants lived with many different conditions (an average of 10). These top conditions included osteoarthritis, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, chronic pain, thyroid disorders, depression, cancer, anxiety, hearing loss, and diabetes. The average age of participants was 74 years old and ranged from 65-93. Interestingly, in this study, older age was associated with better perceived overall health.

Two senior women laughing togetherAmong the 89 Massachusetts residents who participated in this study, which included a lengthy interview, 60% of them lived alone and had an average of seven close relationships, most of whom were friends that lived nearby. Interactions among close relationships were frequently daily and often on the telephone.

Key findings from this study indicated that positive social relationships resulted in improved self-care activities, improved mental health, and vitality. Support from social relationships also positively influenced a sense of control and dignity. Positive social support resulted in improved self-care and improved mental health, social function, and emotional role.

For some, social relationships might need to be something to build. For others, it may just mean reaching out to be sure you are seeing those people who are important to you and asking for support in what is important to your health (sharing a meal, taking a walk together, sharing in a talk). There is no secret number as to how many close contacts in our lives will make us healthy, nor how many interactions improve our health. Notice what you need, and seek out those you find supportive.

Your local councils on aging can be a great place to visit to meet new friends, participate in an activity, and share a meal together. For a list of Councils on Aging nearest you, visit Mass.gov or call LifePath at 800-732-4636.