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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

International Day of Friendship a timely reminder to nurture relationships at every stage of life

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Today, June 30, marks International Day of Friendship, a timely reminder of the value of nurturing new and existing connections, especially for older people.

Lajan Maharjan, a social worker and team leader for service delivery and outings at LINK Community & Transport, has worked in a number of challenging environments including the immediate disaster response during the 2015 Earthquake in Nepal.

Even amidst times of severe crisis, he says it’s human bonds that allow us to persist, bringing out the best of human nature in the most challenging of times.

“I believe the physical and mental benefits of friendship is that it keeps you stimulated, reduces your stress and encourages positive thoughts.

“It also gives you sense of belonging and helps you feel valued and important.

“When you are feeling that you have some emotional support then your whole mentality is positively impacted. You are more optimistic toward life and gives you sense of purpose with it.

In Maharjan’s role at LINK, he organises social outing for clients, giving them the opportunity to reconnect with others, especially important as the country attempts to emerge out of the COVID crisis.

“It is very satisfying to see our clients have a fun time and enjoying these outings, and the shared experience they bring.

“Given their age, they are more likely to be vulnerable, however having meaningful friendships encourages them to get out into nature and have some fun times.

“I believe that friendship is very important for elderly people because it helps them socialise and share their happiness and griefs together.”

Lajan Maharjan, a social worker who coordinates outtings for older Victorians through LINK Community Transport, says that new friendships have a transformative effect on both the mental and physical health of isolated elders.

There is a growing body of research that shows that social connection is a major determinant of wellbeing and health outcome, with those who are socially isolated having an increased risk of developing dementia.

Emerging research also points to the role of loneliness in contributing to physical ailments such as heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity.

However, isolation is an ongoing issues as COVID continues to be prevalent in the community.

To tackle this, Maharjan advises that program coordinators ensure ongoing vigilance with COVID safety protocols.

“After a long period of lockdown and COVID, many elderly people have the added problem of heightened fears about going out and socialising.

“Here in LINK, we make sure that our client’s feel safe by following the guidelines for COVID-19 so they are not as hesitant leaving their home.

“We make sure they have a lot of choices when it comes to outings and our friendly staff and volunteers assist the clients as much they can to make sure they are enjoying their time and are safe while travelling with us.”

Maharjan says that accommodating disabilities is vital to ensure elders are not discouraged to participate simply because of physical barriers.

“Many elderly people who are living independently face challenges adapting to new places. They have difficulty getting around because of their mobility issue or because of their health, so we must ensure we listen to those clients and accommodate those needs.

“Here in LINK, we are working hard to minimise the social isolation in our clients’ lives.”

Apart from the clear health benefits, Maharjan notes that we cannot underestimate the priceless feeling of mutual understanding.

“These outings also help them to reminisce their good memories associated with place or the time when they were younger.

“They share their experiences with likeminded people which helps them to find their commonality and interests.”

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