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Older citizens should connect with younger friends

All of us need friendships in all age groups. We can learn lots of great things from those both younger and older.

But, if you're older, younger people can become your lifeline. They can help you out with lifting, moving, shopping, and errands.

So, if you're past 60, don't wait to connect with friends much younger than you.

Consider a couple we'll call Jane and Al. Both are in their late seventies. This couple is financially secure, upbeat, and so nice almost anyone would like to know them.

But, recently Al injured both ankles in a car wreck. Jane was in a bind because all of her friends are older than 70. Her children live on the opposite coast.

"I'm going crazy trying to get Al to his doctors' appointments," Jane told us. "My friends are not strong enough to help maneuver him."

We advised Jane to connect with younger people at her church. She's learning the value of calling on a few people occasionally who can provide physical support.

Older people can be a real comfort for those younger, too.

For example, one of Jane and Al's church friends has no family. He's a veteran who's engaged to be married soon, but his parents are deceased.

This veteran was eager to help Jane transport Al to the doctor once a week. He says he loves the feeling of connection. He likes being needed.

While none of us should be "using" people in a selfish way, all of us need people in our lives for very practical reasons. Having no one to call on is a bleak situation.

"I try to link up people in their fifties with some of our older citizens," says a woman who runs a senior citizen center in her community. We'll call her Deborah.

"It's surprising how much benefit they are to each other," says Deborah. "One gentleman in his late seventies is coaching two men in their mid-fifties in marketing. They are marketing a new business that's really starting to take off."

Deborah reports that a woman in her early eighties is helping her design a new home.

"My plans to buy an older home made me kind of nervous," says Deborah. "But this lady drew some nice sketches of how I could fix the outside with real curb appeal."

Older people can find friendships by slowly building a connection to others. Cooking a meal for a younger person or a younger couple is a good way to connect.

Or, offering to help a younger person refinish furniture, plant flowers, or clean a porch builds a connection.

Waiting until you're sick or very disabled to build friendships may not work. There are plenty of people who reside in nursing homes without one friend to visit.

If they'd realized the value of investing in friendships with younger people, these folks might have a different quality of life.

Before you get in a situation of needing too much help, try to build friendships with strong individuals.

One good way for older people to build friendships is through their children and grandchildren. Tapping into a solid social network that's already in place can make it a lot easier to connect.

Jane, mentioned above, sums it up this way: "We were a vibrant couple in our seventies — believing we were doing okay. Al's problems from the car accident made me realize it's tough to build friendships when things are bad.

"It's better," says Jane, "to connect with younger friends when you're feeling good enough to give of yourself."

Judi Hopson and Emma Hopson are authors of a stress management book for paramedics, firefighters and police, "Burnout To Balance: EMS Stress." Ted Hagen is a family psychologist. Write to them in care of McClatchy-Tribune News Service, 700 12th Street NW, Suite 1000, Washington DC 20005; please enclose a copy of the column and the name of the newspaper you saw it in. You can also contact the authors through the Web site (c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune News Service