Friends and community

Friends and community were exceptionally important for most of the people we spoke to; many of them said that friends in particular had become more important to them in their later years. Neighbours were vital for practical support and feeling part of the community.

Friends and community were exceptionally important for most of the people we spoke to; many of them said that friends in particular had become more important to them in their later years. Neighbours were vital for practical support and feeling part of the community. One of the great joys of being retired was that people had more time to spend with friends. Friends became like family, particularly if family members were absent or lived far away. ‘Friends’ included long time friends, as well as new and younger friends, made through new activities opened up in their retirement years.

Some people noted how important it was to have role models for positive ageing. Marjorie, who describes herself as a ‘reflective thinker’ said that the time she used to spend reflecting on her management style at work or her role in her relationship was now spent reflecting on the qualities of her friendships. As Brian H said: “just having good friends is the answer to a lot of things”.

Friends have always been important to Marjorie and she finds she has more time for them in retirement.

Marlene believes that role models are just as important to have at this stage of life as they are in younger years.

A number of people discussed making a greater investment in their friends now that their children were older and had their own lives. Some people took into consideration not only their family, but where their friends lived when moving house. This was described as a continuation of the process of coming to terms with an ’empty nest’. Living in close proximity to and spending time with friends was an important part of building a new life when children moved out of home.

Brian X thinks it is not always a good idea to move close to family and cut ties with friends.

It was important to many people that they had friends of a range of ages. There were advantages to having both older friends with whom they had a shared history and younger friends who could introduce them to new experiences.

Chris appreciates how much he has in common with friends his own age. They are experiencing the same age-related health issues and share similar perspectives.

Kaye likes to have friends from a wide variety of age groups.

Seeing close friends getting older could be challenging. The inevitable decline in health, mental capacity and physical functioning made people aware of their own old age and eventual mortality.

Marjorie finds it confronting to witness the beginning of her friend’s mental decline.

Having close friends pass away was difficult for many people we spoke to, particularly people in their 70s and 80s who survived many – if not most – of their friends. Sometimes the awareness of this came as an enormous shock; Dot described needing someone to go with her to a polling booth on election day and discovered, on flicking through her address book, that all of her local friends had since passed away. However, people largely accepted this as an inevitable part of the ageing process. Given that their friends had lived long and full lives, their death was comparatively easy to cope with (see Death and dying.

Katherine has outlived a number of her closest friends which, while she misses them, she has come to accept as part of life.

Some people found it more difficult to make friends in later years, particularly if their energy levels, mobility, hearing and vision were compromised. They noted that it took longer to get to know people when they did not always feel they had a lot of time left and did not have the energy or capacity to do lots of things together. Making new friends presented particular challenges for participants who moved into aged care facilities and suddenly lived in close proximity to many new people.

Leonie feels she has less capacity to build new, close friendships because of the limited activities she can do.

Contrary to his expectations, Fred has not made many male friends since his recent move to an aged care facility.

However, like Fred, people who were not making many new friends stressed that they had always been that way inclined. Some people had never needed a lot of friends and did not feel the need to make more, simply because they were getting older.

Maree has always been content having one close friend and this has not changed over the years.

Those who were always very social still found ways to continue making friends, even if it became more difficult to do. Organised groups, such as church, exercise classes, craft groups and voluntary work provided the means of getting to know new people (see Interests and activities); see Volunteering. Many people continued to make friends and gather new groups of their friends together informally, just as they had always done.

Over the past year, Lorna has gathered some friends together at her place for a weekly catch-up over tea and some of her baking.

Having good neighbours was also very important to people we spoke with. For most people, neighbours were distinct from friends in that friends were people they socialised with and relied on emotionally. In contrast, neighbours provided practical support such as collecting their mail when they were on holidays, helping to bring shopping in and ‘checking in on them’ to make sure they were alright.

Edith’s neighbours step in to help her out, knowing that she does not have any family living nearby.

Len’s neighbours are helping him out while he is unwell, but they are not friends who socialise together.

Those who identified with particular cultural groups often had a wide range of friends and acquaintances from which they could draw support and ask for practical assistance. However, some participants pointed out this assistance and sense of belonging to a community could have its drawbacks in terms of autonomy and obligations, for example responsibility for looking after grandchildren (see Attitudes of others.

Olga can rely on her Sri Lankan family and community.

A strong sense of community was important to many people. Being part of a close-knit community was about the connectedness they felt when they knew people in the neighbourhood. This included having good neighbours and having friends close by, but also getting to know people through seeing them down the street or being friendly with shopkeepers and other local service providers. Having good services in the area that met most of their needs was also important (see Housing.

Marjorie is determined to stay in her own home and cites her community as being a key reason why this is important to her.

Many people we spoke to felt a strong sense of obligation to ‘give back’ to their community. Voluntary work fulfilled this sense of obligation for those who engaged in this (see Volunteering. They took into account their responsibilities to the community when choosing charities to support or how to vote. Consideration of the needs of young people and being a role model was also important.

Gil feels that he and his partner have set a positive example for their suburban community of the reality of a same-sex relationship.

It is important to Robyn that action is taken to ensure a positive community for young people and families.