Friendship is about connecting with and caring about another person. Friends often share a common interest or enjoy an activity together; share a laugh; confide in each other; help one another cope and more.

Studies have shown that maintaining positive social connections plays a key role in overall health, just as a nutritious diet and regular exercise influence long-term health. Those who lack social connections are at greater risk of experiencing depression and cognitive decline.

As we grow older, it sometimes becomes difficult to maintain connections with others. Life gets busy; caring for family members and job responsibilities may take priority. Friendships can also be affected by a job change, retirement, relocation, or a medical problem. It’s important to recognize that change is inevitable and as such, strive to maintain existing friendships and build new connections as well.

It can be difficult to meet new people in order to make new friends, but many towns have centers with activities and events that are open to all. Your local library is a good source for information about activities and groups, as is your local Council on Aging (COA).

COAs provide older adults with access to support, advocacy, transportation, meals and outreach. But that’s not all. COAs also provide recreation, educational opportunities and fun activities which better enable older adults to build social connections and develop new friendships. Consider taking up a hobby or attending an event at your COA. Each COA offers a number of daily activities, which may range from yoga, dance, fitness and technology classes to games, painting, crafting and more. Not ready to participate in an activity? COAs are welcoming and inclusive community centers where older adults may drop in just to see other friendly faces and enjoy conversation. Many COAs have a “common area” with comfortable seating, shelves of books, newspapers and magazines as well as a puzzle table.

Community Dining Sites, also known as congregate meal sites, provide older adults with another opportunity to socialize. Community Dining Sites are located at COAs and some local Housing Authorities. In addition to delicious nutritious noontime meals provided Monday through Friday, these dining sites are a chance for older adults to share meals and companionship with peers. Many sites often provide fun group activities during and after the meals as well. Anyone age 60 or older is encouraged to attend a Community Dining Site.

Another way to stay connected to others is through volunteering. Did you know that older adults who volunteer often live longer, experience lower rates of depression, and express higher levels of well-being?

Food pantries, animal shelters, libraries, places of worship, COAs and many nonprofit organizations often need volunteers. Old Colony Elder Services (OCES) is one of 25 Aging Services Access Points (ASAPs) in Massachusetts that offers a variety of volunteer opportunities to match volunteer interests. For anyone age 55+, OCES can provide information on the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Plymouth County. For example, OCES offers volunteer opportunities in their Nutrition and Money Management programs, and RSVP has a reading program where volunteers read to children. Volunteering not only helps others, it provides a sense of purpose and a chance to meet new people.

Friendships enhance wellbeing and should be nurtured. Stay connected and try to find ways to preserve those bonds of friendship. If you cannot find time to spend together in person, be sure to call, email and/or text on a regular basis to keep in touch.

Looking to make new friends or reconnect with old friends? Don’t be afraid to take the initiative and start the conversation or extend an invitation to coffee or lunch. Know of a neighbor who is homebound? Be sure to reach out; they may be seeking to connect too.

For more information about OCES, Community Dining Sites or volunteer opportunities, call OCES at 508-584-1561.