golden years of love and friendship
The Men’s Club is one of
many social-interaction opportunities at Hebrew SeniorLife.
love ever fall out of favor? The grand consensus appears to be no.
Studies, magazine articles and personal interviews seem to concur
that this most basic, sometimes elusive, yet often attainable human
emotion enhances life and provides any number of emotional,
spiritual, physical, social and mental benefits.
We seek it,
we run from it, we savor it. It entices, it makes us happy, it makes
us sad, it changes, it grows, and unfortunately, it can fade and die
– but it never loses its magnetism or mystique. And short of a
future cyber-culture with sharply decreased human interaction, it’s
not going away anytime soon.
So when you
find it, studies agree, embrace it. The benefits of love, courtship
and even friendship cannot be underestimated.
By the way,
we’re talking about lifelong love here. Not necessarily love that
lasts a lifetime, but love that can happen at any stage along the
Shimberg and Mel Frankel, who live at Orchard
Cove in Canton,
formed a friendship that has turned into something more.
what’s been happening at Hebrew SeniorLife (HSL), where many
residents of its communities have known love, and too many have lost
it. But it is never too late, and Mel Frankel and Bernyce Shimberg,
two seniors who reside at Orchard Cove, a senior living community in
Canton, have found themselves in a committed, longterm relationship.
They began as friends, which led to a love relationship that has
even connected their families.
nonprofit, non-sectarian senior care organization founded in 1903,
is an affiliate of Harvard Medical School.
According to its website, the organization, which remains at the
forefront of new research in geriatrics and gerontological practice,
is the largest provider of elder care in the metropolitan Boston
area. Its independent, assisted living and long-term nursing home
senior housing communities strive to enable seniors to live full, as
well as fulfilling, lives.
Orchard Cove resident Irv
Rosenberg says his dog Zoe has helped him make new friends.
Cove is friendly,” Shimberg says in a “Power of Friendship”
video highlighting HSL’s two independent living communities,
Orchard Cove and Dedham’s NewBridge on the Charles. (“A friend
is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself,” a quote by
the late Doors singers Jim Morrison, adorns the webpage where the
video can be found.)
adds Frankel in the clip. “Comfortable,” says Shimberg.
“Romantic,” Frankel interjects, while planting a kiss on his
never thought I’d fall in love again. I never knew that there’d
be anyone I could feel that way toward,” says Shimberg, who
recalled that when she met Frankel, he insisted that she go to the
chorus, which he loved. “Now it’s a big part of our lives,”
she said. “We go once a week.”
explains how each of their daughters embraced and encouraged their
budding romance, and later became friendly themselves. “I read an
article where a woman asked a couple when they had stopped being
friends and became lovers,” said Shimberg. “And she said, ‘Oh,
that’s the secret – you never stop being friends.’”
residents convey the same sentiment. “[My fellow residents] ask me
to do different things with them,” says one resident. “I first
opened those doors for a look-see, and it was like a million arms
embracing me,” says another. “Even before we picked out our
apartment, we went to the coffee klatch, and people came over and
asked if we were moving in, said we were going to have dinner
together, and that’s exactly what happened,” says a third. “You
need a friend so that you can talk to that person, and I’ve met a
lot of lovely, lovely women here,” adds a fourth.
friends can positively impact an individual’s happiness and sense
of self-worth,” said Dr. Rob Schreiber, medical director of
evidence-based programs at HSL. “The desire to feel that one
belongs is a normal part of human nature, and being part of a
supportive community can help satisfy this need. Conversely, caring
for others and being a source of support for them can also give one
purpose and direction.”
also a relationship between friendship and decreased stress levels,
he explained, citing a two-year study he’s read that surveyed 500
women with suspected coronary artery disease. “It was found that
those with a solid support system had better outcomes after two
years,” said Schreiber. “Additionally, their hypertension and
diabetes levels were lower.” A potential explanation, he
hypothesized, was that levels of the stress hormone cortisol can
increase when an individual feels lonely. “That leads to an
increase in blood pressure and hormonal imbalances,” he said.
A 2008 study
by the Japan Public Health Center, “Social Support and Stroke and
Coronary Heart Disease,” which appeared in the American Heart
Association’s Stroke publication, determined that while low social
support was associated with higher risk of stroke in men, social
support was not. The evidence suggests that social support may be a
greater assessment in the prognosis of stroke than preventing their
has numerous heart health benefits as well, including enhanced
recovery from a major health challenge, such as a heart attack,”
said Schreiber. “Additionally, friendship and social interaction
has been proven to lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels, which can
have a positive impact on heart health,” he said. “A recent
study found that women with frequent, diverse social interactions
were more likely to have healthy blood pressure profiles than their
more isolated counterparts.” As for the physical and emotional
benefits of friendship, Schreiber said that it is a truism at any
age, but especially for seniors. “Maintaining friendships can do
everything from extending lifespan and protecting against dementia
to lowering stress levels and aiding in recovery from illness,” he
studies have shown that seniors with strong social networks tend to
be healthier, have lowered risks for certain diseases and have
improved longevity,” he said. Loneliness, Schreiber explained, is
a major contributor to depression, which substantially increases the
risk of death in adults. “Having a group of friends and social
motivators can help ease loneliness and encourage an individual to
be more outgoing, active and engage in and maintain many healthy
habits (such as better nutrition or taking up new hobbies).
friendship also encourages the development of better habits?
“Absolutely,” said Schreiber. “In addition to preventing
isolation, friends keep you accountable for your well-being and
happiness. They can serve as motivators, encouraging you to not only
find a new hobby, such as painting or a book club [or chorus, in
Shimberg’s case], but to make resolutions and stick to them.”
These might include going to the gym, changing one’s eating habits
or cutting back on smoking. “Additionally, social interaction can
help keep the mind sharp and an attitude positive, and it’s never
too late to learn something new or pick up a new hobby,” he said.
study, published last year by the National Center for Biotechnology
Information of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, found that
healthy lifestyles help to prevent coronary heart disease (CHD),
while intervention of preventive practices aimed at lifestyle change
were disappointing. In other words, emulation and a bit of peer
pressure might be just the thing.
don’t have a mate, but I have made many good friends,” said Irv
Rosenberg, a resident for seven months who moved to Orchard Cove
following 20 years in Florida.
“I feel like I’ve been friends with people here for 20 years,
when it’s only been months,” he said. Rosenberg is usually
accompanied by his dog Zoe, who has also made many friends. “I
just tag along, and he opens doors for me,” said Rosenberg. “
The dog has made it even easier.” Asked what he believes are the
most important components of life at Orchard Cove, he returned to
the common theme: “Friendship, then community, and then friendship
How does pet
ownership affect emotional and physical outlook? “Pet ownership
has a number of benefits, not limited to reduced stress and
depression, lower blood pressure and increased social interaction
and physical activity,” said Schreiber. “Pets provide a constant
source of companionship and love in a seniors’ life and can
stimulate friendships and interactions with other seniors who may
approach the owner to interact with the animal and ask questions.”
HSL guideline considerations for pet ownership include the value of
prior pet ownership, the health of the pet, the right age, the
proper animal to complement one’s own physical limitations, and
means to me having loyal people who are there for you when you need
them, and that certainly is happening here,” says an HSL resident
in the videos. “Friendship is having a person around where if you
need her you can call her, and she’s never too busy to help you
when you’re having problems,” says another. “It was nice that
the Men’s Club has created an environment where I know so many
more men,” observes a male resident. “We haven’t run out of
conversation yet,” says a woman about her new BFFs.
challenges for the elderly include illness, separation and loss.
Here again, friends can step in to mitigate suffering. “Networks
of friends and close personal relationships can provide a strong
support base on which to lean when coping,” said Schreiber.
“Friends have likely had similar experiences, and can lend their
support accordingly.” Even sitting in silence with a friend close
by has great value, he said. “Many seniors face loneliness,
whether as the result of living alone, loss of a spouse, a lack of
close family ties, or feeling disconnected from society as a whole,”
he continued. “Having a close network of friends can incorporate
seniors into the community and provide positive social stimuli.”
spirituality? “Friendships can help us relate to others, laugh
(even at ourselves), experience compassion and encourage us to be or
find our true selves,” said Schreiber. “All of these things can
contribute to spirituality, regardless of your religion, traditions
very, very happy,” says a woman who lives at Newbridge. “I have
a lot of wonderful friends. I go over to the [adjacent] Rashi
School, and even this little boy here knows me from last year.
call me – what is it they call me? ‘Gigi,’” she beamed.
/ Local News