Long Term Relationships & Better Health

January 26, 2023
elderly couple walking down the street and smiling at each other

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I would like to give a shout-out to those couples who have been together for decades, well into their later years.

Studies show that long-term relationships are often associated with better health outcomes, and here are a few reasons why:

  • One of the most obvious reasons is social connection. Living alone in later years, without social support, is hazardous to one’s health ~ akin to smoking 15 cigarettes per day. So having a partner or spouse likely provides interaction as well as a safety net. We learned during the Covid-19 pandemic the deleterious effects of isolation and, as a result, many policies within assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities (nursing homes) have changed so that drastic visiting restrictions will not take place again.
  • Many people don’t like to eat alone, so having another person with whom to enjoy meals can lead to better nutrition, hence better health. UCLA psychologist Theodore Robles, Ph.D., says, "Your spouse is a large force of influence in your own behavior. You have someone to remind you that you shouldn’t eat that; that you should have one less drink." That means your spouse can help you maintain healthy habits." (Source: WebMD)
  • In my experience in our care management practice, I will also say that people in “partnered relationships” are better at getting one another to the doctor than many older adults who live alone. As a result, there is more prevention, which, once again, leads to better outcomes. And, “people who are in happy marital relationships are also more likely to follow their doctors’ recommendations, research shows.” (Source: WebMD)
  • Then there is “shared history,” which cannot be overestimated. Shared history is the collection of all the memories you have created or witnessed together, such as when you met 60 years ago and how different the world was then, the birth of your children, the vacations you took together, the losses along the way ~ all of it. These shared memories come in handy as we grow older, especially if one of the partners is experiencing memory loss. Reminiscing is reported to produce health benefits such as reducing boredom, depression, and stress, as well as improving quality of life and one’s communication skills. The ability to reminisce together can be a joyful and important way to communicate as couples age together.
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