We live in an “every man for himself” society at a time when we would fare better recognizing the benefits of being “all in it together.” Social solidarity has a lot to say for itself when it comes to our health and financial security. At the policy level, there’s no better testament to the value of social solidarity than Medicare and Social Security. And, at the personal level, there’s mounting evidence that we improve our health when we have buddies, including casual acquaintances.
The data suggest that having health care buddies improves your health and extends your life. Buddies can provide mental, physical, emotional, social and psychological support that many older adults, particularly those living alone, are lacking. People with few or no social relationships are as likely to experience an early death as people who smoke. And, they are more likely to die prematurely than people who do not exercise or who are overweight.
SFGate reports on a study in Health Psychology which shows the value of having casual buddies, people you may not know well but whom you see every now and then at church, at the gym, the grocery store or coffee shop. Over four years, researchers looked at people’s lung function–which is a good predictor of health and longevity. They found that people who had more people in their social networks fared better. It may be because people with more relationships tend to take better care of themselves and be more positive in their outlooks.
It’s also great for your health to have one or more close buddies who can be your partner when you need medical care. Close family members and friends can help you navigate your health care options and coordinate your care. People with multiple chronic conditions–about three out of four older adults–especially benefit from a health care buddy to help coordinate their care. Your health care buddy can be anyone you trust to help ensure your health care needs are met.
No matter how old you are, if you have a chronic condition, it’s important to bring someone with you to your doctor’s appointment. You may be seeing an array of doctors and other health care providers each year, are likely on multiple medications and getting a lot of instructions about how to care for yourself. Your health care buddy serves as a second pair of eyes and ears, takes notes on what you need to do, and asks questions that you might not feel comfortable asking or might forget to ask. It’s wise to have a written record of what your doctor recommends. It’s difficult to keep track of all the things you need to do. A buddy can help keep you on track.
Similarly, it’s important to have a buddy to go with you to the hospital, even if your buddy is not a family member. Your buddy can make sure you are well cared for, both while you’re in hospital and when you leave the hospital. A buddy also can help prevent or reduce the chance of medical mistakes and delirium when you’re moving from one care facility to another.
Your buddy can ensure you get any new prescriptions filled and that you understand how to care for yourself after you leave. Ideally, your buddy can help you with any questions or concerns you have and, if necessary, speak to your doctor on your behalf.
When it comes to your health and quality of life, buddies matter. Do your best not to go it alone. If you don’t have a buddy, consider making it your mission to find one. You might offer to be a buddy for a friend or neighbor and have that friend or neighbor be your buddy.
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