The Importance of Human Relationships
August 26, 2019
Friendships and partnerships can help keep your brain healthier as you age, increase longevity and nurture purpose.
In a book by Louis Cozolino, professor of psychology at Pepperdine University, Timeless: Nature’s Formula for Health and Longevity, he emphasises the positive impact of human relationships. “Of all the experiences we need to survive and thrive, it is the experience of relating to others that is the most meaningful and important,” he writes.
“Our brains are social organs, and that means that we are wired to connect with each other and to interact in groups. A life that maximizes social interaction and human-to-human contact is good for the brain at every stage, particularly for the ageing brain.”
“How we bond and stay attached to others is at the core of our resilience, self-esteem, and physical health,” Cozolino writes. “We build the brains of our children through our interaction with them, and we keep our own brains growing and changing throughout life by staying connected to others.”
Allison Collins has lived what many would consider a complete and even charmed life, though in her wisdom she has learned to see even serious challenges and misfortunes as having their place and their value. She is, as she told us, ‘happy’.
Allison was born in Bundaberg on the 23rd of February 1929, at a time and in a place where “everyone sang or whistled” and children were trusted to get on their bikes and “go anywhere we liked and do anything we liked”. Allison’s father trusted the Dutch servicemen stationed in Bundy during the war to accompany her to the cinema, where they would solicitously cover her eyes and ears if in their judgement a scene in the film was a bit racey.
She remembers her high school years as “free” in a way that seems impossible today but which some are trying to revive. Wildlings Forest School in Nambour “want our children back outdoors and given the freedom and trust that we had… In our programs you may find children in the mud, climbing trees, whittling with pocket knives, building rafts and falling in love with fire. Because children will never learn to love the earth if they don’t have a childhood in it.”
In 1948 Allison started going together with Peter, the man she would marry. In 1951 they were hitched and living on a cattle station north of Gin Gin, and the first of five children was born the following year. Then came sugar cane, then a dairy.
“They were the happiest years of our lives on that little dairy there. There were 22 farmers up the creek and we used to call our place Frogs Hollow in Starvation Gully, that’s what my husband used to call it. But everybody helped everybody else. If someone needed something, you’d go to them, if you wanted to use their machinery, it was really good. And we are remained really friendly with all those people up the creek.”
She remembers in times of drought, bathing her five children and one husband in escalating quantities of precious, carefully rationed water, each generation murkier than the last, until by the time ‘father’ came, “there was nearly mud in that bathtub”. (And who cleaned up afterwards, we wonder.)
They retired to the Sunshine Coast and went nomad, around Australia and New Zealand, Alison to America, Peter to cattle shows and cattle sales, both of them up from the beach to Mt Isa and Darwin to visit family every year.
Peter passed away in 2017. They’d been married for 66 years. So, the usual question: what’s the secret? “It’s give and take. And just forgive. Everybody has their disagreements and things like that, but you work through them. Don’t stew over it all the time. Never go to bed with an argument. Settle it before you go to bed.”
Allison is a model for healthy ageing, combining nutrition, exercise and social connections. “I go to mobility classes and I go to the Ageless Grace classes and it takes me an hour every morning to do all my exercises. I have some damage in my throat, and I do speech therapy exercises after breakfast. And then in the afternoon I do more of the mobility and physio exercises. I suppose I’m doing about two hours of exercise a day. I walk around to the fruit shed and back and I do a bit of gardening. I love the company and the laughter and the music at Ageless Grace. It’s good fun!”
Allison doesn’t seem to talk, or think, in terms of physical decline, and even her circle of care is an opportunity for socialising and connecting. “I always rest between 1 and 3, that’s when the hospital says I have to do. They send a nurse over. One to three is my nana nap. Then I read the paper. Then I might have my visitors come, my next-door neighbour she comes in twice a day, morning and night. And then another neighbour comes in and checks on me. So, everybody is checking in on me.”
Are there challenges to ageing in her own home? The short answer is ‘yes’. “What I’m finding is that because the house is so old everything seems to go. The windows were cracking, so ComLink has organised for new glass put in. And they have just put new securities in for me.”
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