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Old People Suffer More From Negative Relationships

Gretchen Heuring| 11.06.08


Karen Rook, professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, studies the social psychological factors that affect older adults’ emotional and physical health, specifically friendships and family relationships, personality characteristics and social perceptions.


One current study examines the impact of negative social exchanges on older adults. “When family or friends fail to provide support, or when they’re critical, demanding or insensitive, the effects can be devastating,” Rook said. “It may take as many as five positive social exchanges to balance one negative exchange.”


Older People Often Have A Limited Support System


When we are younger, we have jobs and a support system made up of friends and relatives who care for us. There are plenty of opportunities to balance negative social exchanges with positive ones. We may feel badly after angry criticism from a boss but lunch with a caring friend can quickly restore a sense of self worth. Even the bright chatter of a check-out clerk in the grocery store can set us on a path of recovering our feelings of value.


Older people suffer rounds of loss as their friends die or move away to live with children or to a caring facility. Human contact while shopping or volunteering can also be depressing. It is a fact that many persons are dismissive or patronizing with older people. Strong and capable people can become needy and dependent when faced with these pressures.


Expecting Them To "Buck Up" Is A Bad Answer


There are lots of books and training materials to help us be good parents, spouses, siblings and friends. There's precious little to advise us on relationships with the older people in our lives. Certainly they need kindness and patience, but they also need to us to expect them to behave like adult persons. It is that expectation that will deliver the message that they have worth and value.


Harsh comments to our seniors and ignoring them are both out of bounds. Unfettered affection and firm expectations are the best course.