Gary's Guidance: What’s a Contextual Relationship Got to Do with Aging?

January 2015

During a life span significant relationships existed for older adults whether they involved family members, friends, or people at work.  Most of us have benefited from having a support system.  Support systems are especially vital for the elderly as they offer emotional or moral support, and practical advice for their well-being.  A contextual relationship is similar to a support system, but it’s a different kind of support.  The contextual relationship is not part of the primary support system, but one that informally exists outside of the support system.

My definition of a contextual relationship is two individuals have something in common while developing a meaningful relationship.  Their relationship exists in a context of time, setting, and purpose.  It involves one person needing help and depending upon the other person to provide that help.  There is a desired outcome or goal.  The contextual relationship may exist during shorter or longer periods of time, but it is not a permanent relationship.  While it lasts the relationship is powerful because the interactions have a transforming effect.  One person benefits from the other, and in that context, someone feels supported, something is accomplished, someone’s grateful, and then life moves forward along the continuum of time.

As one ages there is even greater importance for an elder to have a contextual relationship because there is greater vulnerability to loss, and compromised health and safety due to the declines of cognitive and physical functioning.  Personal isolation and failing support systems are problematic too.  In light of this, the role of a geriatric care manager, personal care facility, home care agency, and an adult day care/senior center become the safety net when contextual relationships and support systems are not readily available.

Gary Kozick, LCSW

(215) 510-8901