Karen van der Berg
Human beings are not meant to be on their own. People look up their friends; whether it is marriage partners or ordinary friendships, people want to have friends.
It is not yet known exactly why friendship is so important for one’s health, but presumably it is because friendship releases tension and encourages one to better look after one’s health. Research has also shown that people with friends are less likely to get heart attacks.
Nita Marais, a matron of the Goue Blaar home for the aged in Gauteng, launched a major social media campaign about two years ago to encourage people to make friends with lonely aged persons in homes for the aged. Anybody who can find time to visit and have tea with one elderly person on a weekly basis is asked to join this campaign.
“It is two years later already and the campaign has resulted in many success stories. In particular, I have been placing people with elderly persons who usually do not receive any visitors. In most of the cases where a relationship between the elderly person and a visitor has developed and where the visitor puts a lot of effort into it and visits regularly, the elderly person’s health has improved considerably.”
For Nita this project is close to her heart because she has personally observed how good it is for people to be social and to work on relationships.
“I have often seen how an elderly person finds a reason again to get up in the morning and to dress neatly. How there is an expectation again, how birthdays and Christmas, that usually resulted in despondency, all of a sudden changed into a day of festivities.”
She hopes many more people across the country would get involved in something similar in their communities.
“Of course, friendship is important not for elderly persons only. This is the field where I am now working. But there are so many lonely people around us who could do with a hand of friendship. It can change a person’s life, it can save his life. So, reach out and make friends. It is a wonderful gift that is given to people. Nobody should be lonely.”
Science agrees that friendships improve people’s health. Research recently launched by Harvard University shows that unsociable people have a higher level of the protein fibrinogen, which contributes to heart attacks.
Fibrinogen is produced in the liver and assists in blood coagulation, which could save a person’s life. High levels over a long period, however, increases the risk of a stroke or a heart attack.
The research team examined the protein levels of more than 3 500 men and women and also looked at their social life.
(Additional source: www.harvard.edu)