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17 Mar 2024

Combatting loneliness in older adults

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March 17, 2024 Category: Health Posted by:

FAMILY FEATURES

The bonds found in friendships and other relationships are an important factor in health and wellness – even science says so.

According to the American Psychological Association, forming and maintaining social connections at any age is one of the most reliable predictors of a healthy, happy and long life. Studies show having strong and supportive friendships can fend off depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure and heart rates in stressful situations and change the way people perceive daunting tasks.

However, statistics show approximately half of U.S. adults lack companionship and feel socially disconnected, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community. In fact, 12% don’t have anyone they consider a close friend, per the Survey Center on American Life. This “epidemic of loneliness,” as coined by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, can take a severe toll on mental and physical health.

As people age, the risks of isolation increase. With America’s older population growing rapidly — the 65 and older population reached more than 55 million in 2020 — discussing how older adults can combat loneliness is relevant to public health and individual well-being.
Consider volunteering, which is one of the best and most rewarding ways to combat loneliness.

Volunteering combats loneliness
People often volunteer to find a sense of purpose, learn new skills, improve their communities or establish new routines after retiring or becoming empty nesters. For many, making friends through volunteer work is a welcome bonus. The act of volunteering provides proven benefits for older adults.

Forming connections can make all the difference in a person’s volunteer experience and sense of well-being. People who meet through volunteer work inherently share a common interest and something to bond over. These friendships can carry over outside of volunteer work and lead to bonding over other hobbies and interests.

Connection-focused volunteer opportunities
In addition to making friends with fellow volunteers, many older adults also form relationships with the people they’re serving, especially if those recipients are their peers.

For example, AmeriCorps Seniors is the national service and volunteerism program in the federal agency of AmeriCorps that connects adults aged 55 and up to local service opportunities that match their interests. Its Senior Companion Program pairs volunteers with other older adults or those with disabilities who need companionship or assistance. Volunteers may help with tasks such as paying bills, shopping or getting companions to appointments. In some cases, volunteers may also provide support and respite for family members caring for loved ones with chronic illnesses.

“We often think of volunteering as ‘giving back,’ but we’ve seen firsthand that it often becomes so much more than that,” said Atalaya Sergi, director of AmeriCorps Seniors. “By spending a few hours each week with another older adult in need of support, our volunteers are not only giving back to others, but they’re adding meaning to their own lives and establishing new connections. They’re helping to fight the loneliness epidemic one visit at a time.”

Growing older can come with challenges, but some of those can be minimized with a positive mindset and commitment to remaining connected and engaged — whether with friends, relatives or fellow community members. Fostering relationships is a key ingredient to a healthier and more fulfilling life.

For more information and to find volunteer opportunities near you, visit: www.AmeriCorps.gov/YourMoment.

Meet friends who connected through service
Ray Maestas felt unfulfilled post-retirement and began volunteering with the AmeriCorps Seniors Senior Companion Program. He was connected with Bob Finnerty, a man with blindness looking for assistance a few days each week. They quickly struck up a routine of errands, reading and conversation that’s since become a friendship they both cherish.

“The Senior Companion Program has provided an avenue to enrich the lives of not only the participants but the people who are volunteering,” Maestas said. “Bob and I have gotten to the point where he’s a very important part of my life.”

Finnerty echoed those sentiments and shared his own appreciation for Maestas’ friendship.

“I’ve always relished my independence and I feel Ray is not just a person who reads for me, he’s a friend,” Finnerty said.

In the last few years, Maestas moved and now serves with a different chapter of the Senior Companion Program. He and Finnerty keep in touch. Maestas said they talk about every third day.

Source: AmeriCorps Seniors
Source: AmeriCorps Seniors

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