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Camaraderie and the Commander: the Importance of Socialization for Aging Vets

By Kathryn Cherkas
Program Manager, Friendship Center Montecito

One of humanity’s most commonly shared elements is personal relationships. Friends, relatives, romantic partners, and acquaintances all form a unique network that becomes our community.

Veterans are all part of a unique community that few outsiders understand. The bonds between veterans are not just the result of similar career, training, or combat experience—these bonds are also cemented in the fact that each pledged their life for their country.

As shared by one of our Friendship Center veterans who served in Vietnam, “Military friends are the only ones who will cry with you, not for you”.

Research has shown that post-combat veterans, particularly those living with PTSD and brain injury, are likely to have a significant increase in the volume of the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls emotions including fear, aggression, and anxiety. Essentially, we now know that the brutality of war is coming home with veterans on a whole other, subconscious level.

As veterans deal with the emotional tolls of their service, they may withdraw from mainstream society, removing themselves from their network of community. This is where things can get extremely dangerous. We know that chronic isolation can lead to depression, substance abuse, and even dementia. It is our responsibility to be there for our veterans, providing them with community that supports them and keeps them connected to one another.

There are many benefits of the adult day services provided by Friendship Center, but the connections and genuine friendships between veterans here are among our greatest and proudest. Aging veterans are a bit different than aging civilians. They experienced a strong sense of community during what may have been the most challenging time of their lives. Since leaving the service, they most likely have felt a void left by the lack of those close relationships, and as their health has declined, veterans are likely feeling this void grow in size.

Friendship Center provides a space for veterans to be together, laugh together, and cry together. While changing up the routine and going to an adult day center might be a challenge at first, the sense of camaraderie that is restored when sitting around and reminiscing with men and women who made the same promise you did many years ago is a one-of-a-kind gift. Even when not discussing their time in the service, veterans have an unspoken bond that unites them and it’s clear they feel stronger when they are together, just as they did while serving our country.

This Veterans Day, let’s all be grateful to those who have served and continue to protect our country. Let us also remind ourselves to look out for our aging veterans and keep them involved their communities.

To learn more about how veterans are uniquely affected by a dementia diagnosis, check out this article we shared a few years ago:

Dementia and the Warrior–How veterans are uniquely affected by Alzheimer’s and other dementia

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