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How friendship can help avoid broken heart syndrome

Retirement is often viewed as a time of relaxation and reflection, but it can also be a period of significant emotional adjustment. One of the less-discussed challenges of senior living is experiencing Broken Heart Syndrome. This condition, also known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy or stress-induced cardiomyopathy, is a temporary heart condition brought on by severe emotional stress. 

The good news is that there is a powerful antidote to the emotional upheaval that can lead to this syndrome: friendship. 

What is Broken Heart Syndrome?

Broken Heart Syndrome, a condition first described in the 1990s, is a temporary heart condition that can mimic the symptoms of a heart attack. While the symptoms may be similar, Broken Heart Syndrome is not caused by blocked arteries. Instead, it is primarily triggered by emotional stress.

When we experience intense emotions such as grief, loss, or extreme fear, the body releases a surge of stress hormones, particularly adrenaline. These hormones can temporarily affect the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively, leading to chest pain, shortness of breath, and even fainting. It’s as if our heart has been ‘stunned’ by the emotional overload.

Research on Broken Heart Syndrome has shown that it disproportionately affects older adults, especially women. This highlights the importance of making sure we’re taking care of our emotional wellbeing during our senior living years, so we can stay healthy and endure life’s ups and downs.

How community can help avoid Broken Heart Syndrome

Studies show that one of the ways we can avoid Broken Heart Syndrome, or at least lessen the severity of its effects, is by having a solid support system or community. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is to live surrounded by like-minded people, such as in independent Retirement Living (otherwise known as a retirement village).

Retirement Living options can help by providing:

  • A supportive social environment: One of the greatest advantages of living in a Retirement Community is the built-in social network. They provide an opportunity for residents to make new friends, reconnect with old ones, and foster a sense of belonging. Research has consistently shown that strong social connections can act as a buffer against the negative effects of stress. A study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that people with strong social ties are better equipped to handle stress. They tend to have lower levels of stress hormones and improved heart health. Retirement Living communities offer a daily dose of social interaction, helping to keep loneliness and isolation at bay.
  • Emotional support in times of need: Retirement villages are not just places to live; they are communities that care. Having friends nearby who understand and share in your joys and sorrows can significantly reduce the risk of emotional stress that can lead to Broken Heart Syndrome.
  • Shared activities and interests: Retirement Living communities are vibrant hubs of activity, offering a wide range of programs and events to keep residents engaged and entertained. Whether it’s a morning fitness class, a book club meeting, or a gardening workshop, these activities encourage social interaction and help forge strong bonds among residents who share similar interests. Engaging in activities you love with friends during your senior living years can boost your mood and overall emotional wellbeing.
  • Reducing isolation and loneliness: Isolation and loneliness are known risk factors for Broken Heart Syndrome. Living in a Retirement ommunity helps combat these feelings by providing a constant source of social interaction. Researchers at the University of Chicago have found that loneliness can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, making social connections all the more vital in our retirement years.
  • Supportive living environment: Retirement Communities are designed with the needs and comfort of older adults in mind. This supportive senior living environment can alleviate the stress of daily life, allowing residents to focus on building and maintaining friendships. Knowing that your living space is secure and that assistance is readily available when needed can provide peace of mind. 

How it works in real life

Runaway Bay Retirement Community Manager Malcolm Payne has seen the effects that social support can have on people’s health and wellbeing.

“I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the incredible benefits that our residents gain from having a strong social support group,” says Malcolm. “It’s truly heartwarming to see how these friendships flourish and positively impact our residents’ lives. They not only have companions to share their daily experiences with but also a reliable network to lean on during challenging times. I’ve seen first-hand how these connections contribute to their overall happiness and health. It’s a testament to the power of community and friendship in making the retirement years some of the most fulfilling and enjoyable times of their lives.

“Many residents have found themselves in the village due to the loss of a long term partner. The residents themselves have also recognised the benefits of creating new friendships with other residents in a similar position and have instigated gatherings for the lonely. These gatherings have proved very successful in regard to numbers and enjoyment. From a manager’s viewpoint, it is rewarding to see residents who have come into the village for various reasons, making friends and finding some level of comfort and beginning to enjoy themselves again.”

Broken Heart Syndrome is a condition that can take a toll in a serious way, but it’s not an inevitable part of ageing. By living in a supportive community, you can access a wealth of social opportunities and emotional support that can help ward off this condition. Friendship, in particular, is a powerful antidote to the emotional stress that can lead to Broken Heart Syndrome.

Research has consistently shown that strong social connections are linked to better emotional and heart health. Joining a Retirement Community offers a ready-made solution for nurturing these connections, providing a supportive environment where you can thrive emotionally and physically.

So, as you travel along your retirement journey, remember that the friendships you cultivate in your community can be your strongest allies in preventing Broken Heart Syndrome. Embrace the social opportunities, engage in activities that bring you joy, and cherish the camaraderie of your neighbours. This will help you to not only make your retirement years more fulfilling, but to also ensure that your heart remains strong and resilient in the face of life’s challenges. In the end, it’s the friendships you nurture that can help you avoid the pain of a broken heart.

TriCare Retirement Communities offer a range of services and activities that help our residents to live their best lives and to make and nurture friendships. You can enjoy a life of independence, while reaping the benefits of having social and practical support nearby.

Want to learn more about how TriCare Retirement Communities can help you to live your happiest, healthiest life? Book a tour below.

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