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Geriatrics: Maintaining Friendships in Later Life


In the latter stages of life, when other ties, such as those with employees and members of an organization, may be lost, friendship can serve as a critical source of social support. The chance of acquiring new acquaintances outweighs the likelihood of expanding one’s kin network, at least in one’s generation, in the latter years. It is possible to explain older adult friendships using continuity theory. It is not necessary to prepare for more senior folks’ eventual disengagement; instead, they can actively create and maintain social networks (Bengston & Settersten, 2016). A person can choose to play the role of a friend if they so want. As a relationship evolves, there are times of stability and growth and periods of decline. Social workers, gerontologists, and members of older people’s families can use this information to help the elderly stay in their homes for as long as possible while still receiving the assistance they need. Continuity theory gives people diverse reasons for forming preferable social support networks in later life consistent with how they have adapted to those associations.

Friendships in Old Age

Along with studying structural facets of companionship, such as friend personalities and collaboration rate, there is a consciousness of the need to evaluate friendship in the framework of human systems. This awareness views friendly relations as developing over the entire lifespan and analyzes cognitive, interpersonal, and psychosocial processes as dimensions of peer engagement. Friendship has been a major emphasis in the study of mental health. People in their late 60s and older say they enjoy spending time with their friends, have a good time together, and are happy with their relationships. The ability to share the same interests and activities with others is a great way to combat loneliness and receive emotional and practical support from a group of close friends (Guyette, 2018). These characteristics of friendship foster a sense of purpose in the lives of older people, which is critical to their overall health and well-being. Sharing various sorts of social assistance with friends in later years is unquestionably one of the greatest advantages of having friends.

The benefits of friendship in late adulthood extend well beyond the realm of psychological well-being. Relational connectedness and support networks are especially critical for preserving physical and mental well-being in the old life. In addition, old age presents distinct obstacles, such as health issues that may necessitate help or caregiving (Bengston & Settersten, 2016). Therefore, it is crucial to examine old age friendships for people without close relatives, proximal families, or community members prepared to care for them. Some friends embrace direct caregiving obligations for LGBTQ+ older individuals who may be experiencing familial hardship. In their social contacts, older folks are happier and have less unpleasant experiences than their younger counterparts.

Older people have good strong feelings and less profound negative feelings with the people closest to them in their lives. Elderly individuals have solid and genuine feelings and less profound negative sentiments with the people closest to them in their lives (Bengston & Settersten, 2016). People’s attitudes about social assistance improve as they become older, and older people say that their intimate social relationships provide them with more support. However, these long-term studies show that age disparities in enjoyment ratings and satisfaction with personal networks are persistent. Compared to middle-aged and young individuals, older persons are often friendly and have less problem-ridden interrelations with their children, spouses, and friends.

It has always been beneficial to have a few close pals or as many as feasible. In addition, friendships may become increasingly more critical as individuals get older. When individuals are in their sixties and beyond, peer relationships are more than simply the unifying force and glamor of life; they may alleviate loneliness, enhance health, and even extend life. An older person’s loneliness may not only lead to sadness, but it may also reduce their life expectancy (Guyette, 2018). Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of death in those over 60 years. When people are in their late seventies and beyond, friendships may be a great way to feel connected and happy. Friendships are distinct from other kinds of relationships since they are formed willingly and can be ended at any time without going through a formal procedure or even acknowledging the decision to discontinue the connection.

When it comes to having fun together, friends are better than other social partners at giving companionship, creating and preserving personal significance and self-identity, and offering short-term assistance and support. In old age, one is less likely to meet their aged pals. Older persons are in close contact with a trusted friend at least once a week. Indeed, even casual friendships are essential to one’s well-being. Relationship satisfaction and feelings of loneliness are more closely linked to companionship than social support. Friendships between the elderly and their peers are often pleasant. Changes and transitions occur as people become older. It is normal to experience shifts in one’s personal and professional life (Srivastava & Panigrahi, 2019). After a certain point in life, friendships and social interactions may begin to change. Before retirement, socializing with coworkers after work, children’s soccer games, or neighborhood dinners may have occurred. However, as people age and have fewer contacts, it becomes harder to remain sociable.

While it is wonderful to reminisce about the good old days, a friendship will not continue if no time is set aside to create new memories. Try a new hobby together to keep up with each other’s life and obtain some much-needed downtime. Planning ensures that moment together is not snatched away by other obligations or commitments, which is good. It is important to remember that generating new memories is not only about doing things together (Guyette, 2018). It is also about connecting with one another via meaningful dialogue. There is a need to concentrate on building talks about what is truly going on in people’s lives regardless of whether they meet face-to-face or via phone. It is beneficial to be open and honest about one’s own experiences, as well as one’s ambitions for the future. To better comprehend the other person’s condition and close the gap between diverse situations in life, it is important to be honest.

Continuity Theory

This idea holds that as people age, they tend to keep up the same habits, routines, and social connections they did when they were younger. According to this notion, older persons aim to maintain this consistency of habits by implementing tactics linked to their prior experiences. One of three primary psychosocial theories that explain how individuals grow old is the continuity theory. Both the disengagement and the activity theories are psychosocial models that the continuity theory changes or expands upon in its way. While the other two theories define normal aging from the standpoint of lifespan, this theory adopts a life-cycle perspective (Srivastava & Panigrahi, 2019). Because it is focused on the person, the continuity concept might be considered a micro-level argument from a functionalist point of view. Atchley established continuity theory in a series of writings; a thorough formalization of his ideas included nine assumptions and five statements. To attain their goals or adjust to a changing environment, people often resort to the continuity of broad patterns of thinking, conduct, and connection.

The debate between activity and disengagement ideologies has been superseded by continuity theory. As Atchley put it, this generally recognized notion is one in which the person seeks continuity by tying the past to the future. Insufficient, too much, and the right amount are the three phases of continuity. When there is not enough consistency in one’s life, it might leave one feeling anxious and uneasy (Guyette, 2018). Additionally, it is tedious and predictable to have too much continuity. The ideal level of continuity gives enough challenge to encourage change without overwhelming the individual since having both internal and external continuity is possible. A person’s temperament, feelings, and experiences are all unique to them, and these parts of their personality form the basis of internal continuity. An aged person’s internal continuity binds them to their history. People’s duties and the jobs they do contribute to external continuity, as do the physical and social environments in which they live and work. External continuity can be maintained by retaining friendships and tapering off work in old age. There will be increased opportunities for friends and relatives, as well as voluntary activities, because of phasing out of employment.

With aging comes the gradual loss of friendships, but the ability to adjust to a changing environment provides for new connections and a greater ability to form new ones. Individuals who have had a lot of experience, according to continuity approaches, will be more mature and capable in the future. Knowledge or information is gained via experience and may be put to good use after it has been attained (Guyette, 2018). The development of one’s maturity is similar to the process by which one gains experience, building up a little by little each day. This might have a direct impact on one’s ability to be creative. There is, however, a chance that an individual’s experience may cause them to establish assumptions that prevent them from coming up with new ideas. Individuals may develop a preference for one approach over another, which can lead to rigidity and inflexibility in their thinking because of their experience.

An elder’s ability to adjust to new circumstances is based on their ability to preserve internal and outward continuity. When people talk about internal and external continuity, they are referring to the technique of creating personal connections between fresh experiences and memories from the past. People’s personalities, habits, and preferences persist beyond old age following the continuity hypothesis. Bowling, strolling, and listening to calm music are just a few of the things that some older adults like doing (Bengston & Settersten, 2016). Under the continuity theory, people who maintain healthy lifestyles and relationships into their older years are more likely to have long and healthy lives. In contrast, persons living in unhealthy settings have higher mortality and morbidity rates and poorer health. In addition, positive social experiences and emotional support accumulate over time and are linked to a decrease in biological risk of disease and death.

Atchley’s continuity theory added a life-course aspect to activity theory. An adaptive method for dealing with physical, social, and mental changes and life events connected with growing older is proposed. Older persons keep doing the things, having the ideas, beliefs, preferences, and connections they had earlier in life. In other words, older individuals maintain their sense of identity and way of life by making decisions with the help of their social network and responsibilities in their daily routine that promotes the preservation of meaningful employment and other activities. Continuity theory focuses on the link between people’s actions and their psychological functioning rather than the level of their engagement in various vocations (Srivastava & Panigrahi, 2019). People’s personalities are fixed, and character determines the roles that one adopts, interest in those positions, and how satisfied with their lives they find themselves.

Theoretical Perspective on Friendships in Later life

In the notion of continuity, personal conceptions are impacted but not defined by the social construction of reality received from others and through the media. No matter how much society tries to sway people’s conceptions, they are ultimately free to make their own decisions about interpreting their reality. This component of the theory has the critical implication that researchers’ subjective impressions of continuity are more theoretically meaningful. What a person does and how they do it determines who they are; so, if one cannot effectively do what they are supposed to do, that is a danger to their identity and capacity to perform (Guyette, 2018). A person’s satisfaction with having attained desired and reasonable rates of function, as well as maintaining their identity and friendships during the aging process, are all characteristics that go a long way toward defining what it means to be successful in one’s senior years.

Occupations are more than just a series of activities or motions. A person’s identity is formed via their daily activities, which allow them to express themselves in a unique way. One’s capacity to maintain a feeling of successful aging might be threatened by occupational performance impairments and disabilities that interfere with one’s ability to execute jobs and duties competently. People who are disfigured by illness or injury face additional difficulties securing social acceptance from family, friends, and acquaintances because of this extra assault on their self-identity (Güler et al., 2020). These include involuntary movements and paralysis, motor planning deficiencies and balance abnormalities, as well as undesired tics, amnesia, and times of uncertainty that can make sustaining one’s desired social identity difficult. Occupation therapy has a central role in the rehabilitation of the elderly in helping them adapt and compensate to keep their identities intact, regardless of their mental or physical dysfunction, so that they can remain functionally independent for as long as achievable, irrespective of the degree of physical or psychological dysfunction.

An individual’s sense of identity may be maintained successfully as they get older if they make the required adjustments and modifications. A person’s cognitive, psychosocial, physical, operational, and emotional well-being may necessitate adjustments and modifications as they age. For example, if an older adult is to remain as safe and independent as possible, modifications and accommodations must be made to ensure the best possible outcomes (Bengston & Settersten, 2016). As long as there is obvious evidence of a loss in competence or weakness in any area of basic functioning, adaptations and adjustments are necessary. An occupational therapist’s work is to assess a patient’s strengths and weaknesses and devise a plan of action to help them overcome their weaknesses. Successful aging, thus, is demonstrated by the ability to adapt and accommodate to keep one’s self-identity and assure optimal and attainable levels of functioning, well-being, independence, and happiness with the pursuit of important professions.

It is possible to explain older adult friendships using continuity theory. It is not necessary to prepare for older folks’ eventual disengagement; instead, they can actively participate in creating and maintaining social networks. A person can choose to play the role of a friend if they so want. As a relationship evolves over time, there are times of stability and growth as well as periods of decline. According to continuity theory, different people have different reasons for forming different kinds of social support networks and adapting to those networks. Social workers, gerontologists, and members of older people’s families can use this information to help the elderly stay in their homes for as long as possible while still receiving the assistance they need (Bengston & Settersten, 2016). Developing new friendships and maintaining long-term relationships require pretty different expressions of affection and social support. With longstanding friends, the interchange of support is more solid than with new acquaintances, therefore the relationship is less dependent on overt displays of affection. Friends help one other in many ways; for example, eating together, talking about mundane occurrences, and participating in cooperative activities. As a result, they also serve as confidants when there are no family members present.

Although friendships are thought of as voluntary interactions, they are not completely within the control of older adults. Friendships are not only shaped by the persons involved, but also by the circumstances in which older folks find themselves. For men and women, the healthy and the weak, the poor and the wealthy, and so on, there are a variety of friendship alternatives. Emotional and instrumental demands vary depending on the scenario at hand (Bengston & Settersten, 2016). Options are not the only thing that varies; preferences are, too. When people are able to take use of all of their options, they are more likely to age successfully.

It is important to maintain a steady level of communication with friends as people become older. Even still, social gatherings with strangers were more likely to take place in large groups, whereas gatherings with close friends focused on one-on-one interaction, the exchange of personal information, and the sharing of knowledge and resources. There are more gender disparities than there are friends in terms of one’s stage of life (Bengston & Settersten, 2016). When it comes to making new acquaintances, wanting close connections, and participating in activities outside of the home, males tend to exhibit a drop while women tend to remain the same.

Usefulness of the Theoretical Perspective

The essential premise of the continuity theory is that a fundamental structure endures across time, and that assures substantial consistency in the cognitive processes, behavior, activity profiles, and social interactions of middle-aged and older persons. To cope with the usual aging-related changes, people adopt continuity as a fundamental adaptation strategy in different life phases. A big percentage of adults, despite the vast shifts in health, functional capacity, and life’s circumstances and conditions, tend to hold on to friends, behavior habits, and other aspects of their way of life that were established in their youth (Bengston & Settersten, 2016). People’s ability to cope with life’s changes, whether they are brought by changes in health, new friendships, retirement, or losses they have endured, is enhanced when they maintain a sense of continuity.

As people get older, they face increasingly difficult physical, social, economic, and psychological problems. In the event of deteriorating health and/or cognitive or physical functioning, it may be necessary to relocate to more expensive forms of supporting care. A few of the difficulties that older persons experience include grieving the loss of loved ones, questioning the meaning of life, adjusting to growing levels of impairment, adjusting to retirement, and even considering death. Using the continuity principle, nurses may better assist their older patients in adjusting to the many changes that come with advancing age (Guyette, 2018). Older people’s views on their healthcare requirements are influenced by a variety of variables, including their religious and cultural backgrounds, their social level, their education, and their physical and mental health. A number of factors affect an older adult’s capacity to adjust to new situations.

Roles and overall well-being are influenced by one’s personality, which persists throughout one’s life. Many of the coping mechanisms used by older persons return when they face physical, economical, and social deterioration and the impending end of life (Bengston & Settersten, 2016). Identifying with one’s age group, finding a home that fits a person’s needs, and adapting to new jobs after retirement are some of the most challenging aspects of the transition. When youthful and older persons adjust to alterations in the natural aging progression, their prior experiences, choices, and behaviors will act as basis for their current and future judgments and actions. Continuity theory represents a psychosocial supposition of aging. Regardless of the clinical environment, nurses who deal with the elderly may benefit from the use of continuity theory in order to get a more comprehensive understanding of the lived experiences of the old (Güler et al., 2020). Nurses may be adequately prepared to present seniors with tailored, clinically suitable care if they use the continuity theory in clinical practice.

According to the continuity idea, in order to be happy and healthy as they age, people must stay involved in their communities and retain close personal relationships. When it comes to social participation, continuity theory does not say that people who were active in middle adulthood would remain active in senior adulthood; rather, it asserts that persons who were inactive throughout this time will not become more engaged as they get older. Adults in their 60s and 70s will continue to play the same roles they did as children (Srivastava & Panigrahi, 2019). Continuity theory was the earliest psychosocial explanation of aging that acknowledged that the aging progression was not identical for every person.

As people get older, they prefer to give up strenuous outside activities in favor of more relaxing inside pursuits. In addition, women and those who have lost a spouse are more inclined than others to seek out new experiences in their later years. Retired persons who participate in new activities are more likely to be satisfied with their lives. As a result, research appears that maintaining a healthy balance between routine and trying new things may be advantageous for mental health. Older and middle-aged adults make adaptive choices to maintain both internal and external continuity in their lives (Srivastava & Panigrahi, 2019). An aged person’s familiarity with their surroundings, their family, and other situations allows them to remain independent. This is the emphasis of the article. It is important for the elderly to remain in familiar surroundings and engage in familiar activities, since this helps to reduce and counteract the negative consequences of aging. Consistent, predictable, and familiar aspects and processes that are less stressful are a part of the individual’s adaptation to change under the continuity hypothesis.

An aged person’s immune system has a better chance of fending off disease if they have a supportive social network. The health of elderly individuals who have a few close friends is better than that of those who only have a few or none at all (Güler et al., 2020). For example, friendships may shape a person’s memory and favorably influence many of their decisions. However, as one grows older, the value of having good friends increases. Having close relationships with people in old age might help alleviate loneliness and improve one’s general health. However, it becomes more difficult to maintain their friendships as individuals become older. This is because mobility and travel might be complicated, as can communication.

The Research Plan

It is widely accepted in the research on aging that having close friends and family members is preferable to having none. For decades, researchers in the field of social gerontology have looked at how many friends, how active a family member is, and how much time an older person spends with these supposed intimates as a measure of how well they are aging. Researchers have recently acknowledged that not all personal connections are healthy ones and that not all social contacts have a favorable impact on older persons (Güler et al., 2020). Considering the importance of deconstructing friendships and family ties in the context of aging well by examining their many characteristics and realizing that simply having relationships does not mean one is aging healthily.

Research on the maintenance of friendships in old age has been hindered in part by the inclination of academics to believe that all personal connections are beneficial to both parties involved. Research on family and friendship is generally based on inadequate samples, either focusing on specific subpopulations of older individuals or failing to include any at all (that is, nonprobability sampling) (Srivastava & Panigrahi, 2019). Researchers specializing in personal relationships prefer to work with single subjects rather than groups of people, whether friends or relatives. It is common for them to research dyads in isolation rather than in the context of a family or a group of friends.

As long as there is life, everyone goes through the process of aging. Nature’s homeostasis is maintained via this mechanism, which is a vital aspect of its functioning. Human aging refers to the multifaceted process of biological, psychological, and social changes that take place over the course of a lifetime. The advantages and drawbacks of aging in humans represent the extension and development of certain aspects of human existence, as well as the decrease of others. Many studies into the causes and mechanisms of aging have been spurred forward by the reality that getting old is a natural occurrence (Bengston & Settersten, 2016). As a result, several hypotheses have been advanced to shed light on the process of aging. As civilizations like the United States, the United Kingdom, and others with more established health care systems and higher life expectancies have grown older, it has become clear that society has a significant impact on the aging process.

The importance of maintaining friendships in later life is rarely discussed. However, for the elderly, consistency can either be a blessing or a curse, depending on the circumstances. Each person’s life experiences and a group of friends are entirely up to them to discard or maintain (Srivastava & Panigrahi, 2019). It is common to think of continuity as routines like getting up, eating breakfast, taking a little sleep, eating for lunch, and so on. Nevertheless, a more in-depth examination of continuity goes beyond daily patterns to take into account routines that persist over one’s whole life; for example, visiting relatives and friends, attending Christmas feasts every year, and so forth.

When people become older, they may end up in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, or they may even need a wheelchair to go around. To continue performing the activities that have been done for years, people are incapable when this happens (Bengston & Settersten, 2016). Despite the fact that it is heartbreaking, it is an unpleasant reality. Every day and yearlong rituals continue to be performed, or they are not performed at all, and life is essentially restarted. In the end, it is out of their hands whether their quality of life is affected by the fact that they are unable to establish friendships or not.

In nursing, continuity is being attentive to and aware of how an aged person’s life changes through time. As a nurse, one should be aware of the patient’s customs and traditions (Güler et al., 2020). These simple things may be the sole constancy in that person’s life. In contrast, it is critical to remember that while being sympathetic and caring about their continuity is crucial; it is also imperative to maintain safety at all times. For example, keeping an older patient in bed if they are used to going for morning walks with friends but have a broken hip is the most critical thing to do. In addition, maintaining a longstanding custom, such as having breakfast with one’s spouse or close friend every day for many years, is essential.

Patients admitted to nursing homes or hospitals are often forced to reorganize their lives in a way that is foreign to them. This is a confusing and frustrating situation for even the most well-intentioned individual. As a result, the nurse must be mindful of the fact that the patient may be uncomfortable with some of the new procedures. Continuity is crucial in the care of older patients, especially those who have dementia. Some patients hang onto their daily routines to retain a normal state of mind (Güler et al., 2020). Nurses might grow impatient when an old dementia patient refuses to eat because the mail has not arrived or because friends have not come to visit or contact. This is due to the fact that many elderly patients are so accustomed to their daily routine that when they are pulled away from it, they get confused or lonely, which has a negative impact on their treatment.


Friendship can be a vital source of social support in later life when other ties, such as those with colleagues and members of an organization, are lost. Continuity theory gives people diverse reasons for forming preferred social support networks later in life. People in their late 60s and older enjoy socializing with friends and are satisfied with their relationships. Loneliness can be alleviated by sharing common interests and activities with others, and close friends can provide emotional and practical support. Peer relationships can alleviate loneliness, improve health, and even extend life for people in their sixties and beyond. Older people try to keep their habits consistent by using strategies from their past. The continuity theory is one of three main psychosocial theories of aging. A person’s sense of self can be maintained as they age if they make the necessary adjustments. The continuity theory assumes that a fundamental structure persists over time, ensuring consistency in cognitive processes, behavior, activity profiles, and social interactions in middle-aged and older people. Older people prefer relaxing indoor activities over strenuous outdoor engagements. Many elderly patients are so used to their daily routine and friends that being taken away from them causes confusion or loneliness, affecting their treatment.


Bengston, V., & Settersten, R. (2016). Handbook of theories of aging (3rd ed.). Springer Publishing Co.

Güler, Ç. Y., Çakmak, I., & Ayyıldız, Y. (2020). A qualitative study of friendships in old age: The case of a nursing home in Turkey. Current Psychology, 40, 2610–2620. Web.

Guyette, F. (2018). Successful aging: Social theory, scripture, church teaching. Journal of Religion, Spirituality & Aging, 30(3), 199-211. Web.

Srivastava, S. K., & Panigrahi, P. K. (2019). Social participation among the elderly: Moderated mediation model of information and communication technology (ICT). Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 44(1), 33-42. Web.

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