February is the month for romance. And contrary to popular belief, Cupid doesn't just visit the young. In fact, intimate relationships among seniors are not only common, but they can lead to healthier, and even longer, lives for older adults who are lucky in love.
You never grow out of the need for human contact.
Companionship is a basic human need. Regardless of age, there's always a desire for personal attention, warmth and closeness. Getting older may change how people are able to act on these feelings, but the emotional need is still present. What surprises many people is the fact that romance during old age doesn't necessarily equate to purely platonic relationships. On the contrary, sexual intimacy among seniors is an important part of life for a growing number of older Americans.
According to the Gerontological Society of America, sexually active Americans aged 57 to 85 have sex as often as those aged 18 to 59. Not surprisingly, a better love life also equates to more happiness in general for seniors. A survey from the National Science Foundation found a strong correlation between sexual activity among married seniors and greater happiness in both their lives and their marriages.
Seniors seeking romance face unique challenges.
Establishing and navigating romantic relationships can present some unique challenges for seniors seeking companionship or intimacy. Physical changes that come with age may redefine what each partner can expect of the other. Adult children may be uncomfortable with a parent entering into a relationship with a new partner. And for older women, finding a partner can be problematic, since women on average live eight years longer than men. That reduces the pool of available men to the point where in a typical assisted living community, there is an average of seven women for each man.
Friends with healthy benefits.
Those seniors fortunate enough to find regular companionship are likely to be healthier as well. There are clear physical advantages to an intimate relationship, such as the moderate exercise that comes with sexual activity and the release of endorphins and other hormones that relieve stress, reduce pain and promote well-being. But even a nonsexual relationship can aid in easing loneliness, which has been associated with health problems like depression, high blood pressure and heart disease. Loneliness and isolation can also lead to unhealthy habits such as overheating and avoiding exercise.
Birds do it. Bees do it. Even retirees do it.
To summarize, romance among older adults is not only common, it's also healthy. Especially when seniors are getting the nutritious diet and regular exercise they need to keep their strength up for that Valentine's dance --- or whatever activity keeps them happy and connected to their favorite companion.