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Stimulating Friendship in Later Life 

From: Best practice guidelines for mental health promotion programs: Older adults 55+ (© 2010, 2011 CAMH)

Goals and objectives

  • to help older women reduce loneliness either by improving existing friendships or developing new ones


This educational program from the Netherlands consisted of a 12-session psychoeducational group based on theories of social support and self-help. The program was structured according to a four-stage conceptual model explaining how relational competencies influence one’s relationships. Sessions focused on diverse topics linked to friendship (e.g., expectations for a friendship, self-evaluation as a friend) and included practice in social skills important for friendships (Guideline 5). Participants were given the opportunity to develop their friendships and to build a network of friends (Guideline 6).

After the program was completed, participants’ changes in friendships and experiences of loneliness were observed and compared to those of a control group of women. More women in the friendship program were successful in significantly reducing their loneliness as compared to the control group. The majority of program participants had made new friends, and slightly less than half had improved existing friendships. A follow-up study conducted a year later showed a significant increase in the complexity of participants' friendship networks. A manual for the program was produced in 1995 and has been distributed in over 300 agencies providing services for older people. The program has also been adapted for women in middle age (40–60 years old) and for visually impaired older persons, and a version for older men is being developed (Guidelines 8 and 11).

Additional information

Start date  1994 
Guideline 1: Audience, specific populations 
  • lonely older women 
Guideline 2: Protective and risk factors, and determinants of health 

Protective factors

  • social contacts / friendships

Risk factors

  • loneliness 
Guideline 7: Multiple strategies 
  • group sessions consisting of theory, skills practice and role playing
  • homework 
Guideline 9: Multiple stakeholders 
  • local senior services agency
  • University of Nijmegen 
Guideline 11: Evaluation  yes 
Learn more 
  • Martina, C.M.S. & Stevens, N.L. (2006). Breaking the cycle of loneliness: Psychological effects of a friendship enrichment program for older women. Aging and Mental Health, 10, 467–475.
  • Stevens, N.L. (2001). Combating loneliness: A friendship enrichment program for older women. Ageing and Society, 21, 183–202.
  • Stevens, N.L., Martina, C.M.S. & Westerhof, G.J. (2006). Meeting the need to belong: Predicting effects of a friendship enrichment program for older women. The Gerontologist, 46, 495–502.
  • Stevens, N.L. & van Tilburg, T. (2000). Stimulating friendship in later life: A strategy for reducing loneliness among older women. Educational Gerontology, 26 (1), 15–35.
  • Verstraten, P. & Stevens, N.L. (2007). Building and maintaining a personal network: a training programme for visually impaired older adults. Grave, Netherlands: Sensis.
  • Contact: Nan Stevens, Centre for Psychogerontology, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands


In Best practice guidelines for mental health promotion programs: Older Adults 55+

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