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Family Caregiver Blog

How’s Your Support System?
Who Will Care for You, Be there for You?
4 Ways to Boost Your Support System

By Sally Abrahms

I have a friend in her 60s who has four best female friends from elementary school. One is single, one is remarried, another is in a same sex marriage, and she and the fourth have long, first marriages. The women live in different states, all on the East Coast, and see one another several times a year, often vacationing together with their partners.

They have a plan: if/when they’re single (men do statistically die younger than women), they want to live in the same apartment building in New York City. Each would have her own place, but there would be as much togetherness as they choose. They won’t have to depend on their kids.

Think about it: chums with 50+ years of shared history in one building. (Channel college or Woodstock.) “I can see wheeling myself down the floor to hang out with my buddies,” my friend says. “They would be just an elevator ride away. It’s a comforting feeling to know I won’t be alone.”

In a big city and an apartment building, they can share a housekeeper or caregiver and have easy access to transportation, cultural events and services. (In an effort to appeal to all the boomers turning seniors, New York City is planning ahead, too, with an age-friendly initiative.)

Will it happen? The stars would need to be aligned with impeccable timing. But these women are doing something important: they are thinking about their support system now for their future, when they will be older and less mobile.

Few of us have that kind of support system--or vision. We are immersed in work, caregiving for our parents, children or grandkids, dealing with work and living our day-to-day life. It seems impossible to think that far ahead.

To have a detailed game plan may be unrealistic—who knows where we will be in 10-20 years —but it does make sense to start identifying, building and nourishing our network.

What Support Means

Feeling connected is more than a luxury; it’s a lifeline. Not to scare you, but loneliness can lead to depression, illness, decline, and more. A rich support system and friendships, researchers maintain, can actually extend life.

One Brigham Young University study finds that minimal social interaction can have the same effect as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and being an alcoholic; it is twice as harmful as obesity!

So, for the sake of longevity, your lungs and a future full of caring friends and family who can help you when you’re older, follow these tips:

• Evaluate your support

Where do your family members live? Do you have an idea if your friends are likely to stay around? Their kids may live elsewhere and they may have talked about settling near them. Or, maybe your nearest and dearest have mentioned moving abroad, where live is easier and less expensive.
Even if they plan to stay put, you’ll want to make sure there will be people you can count on.

• Be open to making more friends.

Don’t assume you have enough. You may today, but people’s situations change and different friends offer different things. New friends can be part of your support system—and you, too, will feel needed.

• Think about your future.

This means beginning to tackle some big issues: stay or move, for instance. Maybe you love your house but it requires ongoing repairs, is too big at this stage, has too many steps and is far from public transportation (what happens when you stop driving?) or coffee shops, community resources and people?

The key to wherever you live is to make sure there will be social opportunities.

• Get involved!

When you’re younger, it’s a snap to make friends. They’re all around: at school or camp, extracurricular activities like sports, and summer jobs. Once you’re out of school and the kids are out of the house, those opportunities usually shrink. You have to make an effort to expand your circle.

That might mean joining a town or church committee, a walking or biking club (endorphins and exercise –two birds with one stone), a book group or attending networking events. Meetup.com is a website that connects people with similar interests.

The Transition Network, an organization of professional women over age 50, has chapters around the country. They have outings to the movies, museums, sports games, and restaurants—anything that interests members. A few of the chapters have established The Caring Collaborative that meets monthly. Members get to know one another through monthly gatherings in someone’s living room so that in the future, if they need help, they will feel comfortable asking for it. Volunteers might provide transportation to an appointment, pick up a prescription, keep them company while they’re recuperating, or bring them a meal, for instance. The Collaborative is a creative way to meet friends and be a support system for one another.

Have you thought about your own support system? Do you have enough people you can count on? If not, how can you make meaningful relationships?