Friends Supporting Each Other in Later Life
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Friends Supporting Each Other in Later Life

Senior friends supporting each other

As approaching golden years, many senior adults begin to consider not just their retirement plans, but also who will support them as they age. While family often plays a significant role in your elder years, the power of friendship—particularly long-lasting friendships—can be an incredible resource.

This is especially true when friends take on the admirable role of caring for each other in old age. Such relationships can redefine the meaning of family and create bonds that are as strong as those formed by blood ties.

The Unbreakable Bond: Helen and Margaret’s Story

The Unbreakable Bond: Helen and Margaret's Story

As Barb Buettner approached retirement, she was haunted by the question of how she would live in her later years. Looking after her parents had given her a glimpse of the difficulties she might face. Her father, suffering from Parkinson’s, was lonely in his nursing home, with a sharp mind but a worn-down body. Her mother had Alzheimer’s, and her father had few peers to offer stimulating company. At least he had a daughter to visit and care for him. Buettner, however, had no close family members. She couldn’t help but wonder: What’s going to happen to me?

This concern is growing for many Americans who live longer, often experience chronic illnesses, and are less likely to have kin to rely on in old age. Many older adults, left with no one to turn to, have begun to rely on friends for support. Though this setup has limits, especially if friends need care simultaneously, it can save money, prevent loneliness, and offer a less hierarchical model of caregiving based on equality rather than dependence.

Buettner and her close friend Inez Conrad arrived at this solution. For more than two decades, they had been fixtures in each other’s lives, taking vacations together, celebrating holidays, and supporting each other through the deaths of loved ones. They initially planned to buy separate houses in the same neighborhood but soon discovered they couldn’t afford it. So they bought a house together in 1998, which they called the Hermitage—a place of refuge. Their long history made their relationship a true partnership, in which they each became the other’s confidante, companion, and caregiver.

Initially reluctant to take on the caregiving role, Buettner changed her mind after Conrad had a minor medical scare. They decided to care for each other as long as they could, fearing that relying on Conrad’s son Rick, who lived in another state with his own family, would weigh him down. They became deeply interdependent, sharing a primary-care doctor and granting each other medical and legal power of attorney. Conrad even kept a bell by her bed to alert Buettner if she were in distress at night, ensuring they wouldn’t have to worry about being burdens to distant family members.

This story is adapted from an article in The Atlantic.

Pros and Cons of Supporting Each Other in Older Age

Pros and Cons of Supporting Each Other in Older Age

This kind of support have numerous benefits allowing seniors to live more fulfilling and autonomous lives. However, it also comes with challenges. Here are the pros and cons of this caregiving model, providing insight into its impact on the well-being of older adults.


  • Companionship: Reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • Shared Responsibilities: Helps in dividing household chores and expenses.
  • Mutual Support: They can rely on each other for emotional and physical support.
  • Independence: Living with a peer can maintain a sense of autonomy not always found in family care or assisted living facilities.


  • Health Concerns: As both age, they might face health issues and may need professional care.
  • Financial Strain: Unexpected medical or living expenses can become a burden.
  • Emotional Stress: The potential loss of a friend can be a source of deep emotional pain.
  • Limited Support: Certain needs may surpass what friends can offer, requiring additional assistance from family or professionals.

How To Support Each Eduring the Golden Years?

How To Support Each Eduring the Golden Years?

To flourish during the golden years as Helen and Margaret do, here are some practical ways older adult friends can support and care for each other:

  • Sharing Living Spaces: Living together reduces expenses and provides constant companionship.
  • Sharing Responsibilities: Spliting household chores and responsibilities makes the workload manageable.
  • Supporting Emotionally and Physically: Provide a listening ear and be there for each other during tough times, enhancing emotional well-being. Offer physical support when needed, such as assistance with mobility or daily activities.
  • Supporting Healthcare Needs: Coordinate healthcare appointments, attend medical visits together, and make joint decisions regarding health and wellness. Ensure that both friends are aware of each other’s medical conditions and treatments.
  • Supporting During Emergency: Establish a system for handling emergencies, such as having a designated alarm or notification method. Be prepared to assist each other promptly in case of health scares or accidents.
  • Engaging in Social and Recreational Activities: Participate in joint activities like traveling, celebrating special occasions, or engaging in community events. These activities enrich social lives and create shared memories.

By integrating these practices, older adult friends can create a nurturing and supportive environment that allows them to thrive together during their golden years. This approach emphasizes equality, shared responsibilities, and mutual support, enhancing both their independence and quality of life.

Tips and Points to Keep in Mind

Caring for each other in older age is possible, but it requires thoughtful considerations:

  • Plan for Medical Emergencies: Understand each other’s medical histories, and have a system in place for emergencies.
  • Financial Arrangements: Keep clear and transparent financial arrangements to avoid any confusion or disputes.
  • Regular Check-Ins: If living separately, establish regular check-ins to ensure well-being.
  • Legal Preparations: Have up-to-date wills, power of attorney, and medical directives.

Friendships like those of Helen and Margaret, rich with commitment and mutual care, are treasures that can remarkably enhance the lives of senior adults. While this situation presents its unique sets of challenges, the benefits often far outweigh the drawbacks.

By supporting each other, seniors can preserve their independence and continue to lead fulfilling lives. As we celebrate these friendships, let us also remember the importance of planning and preparing for the complexities that may accompany caring for each in older age

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