Call Programs Combat Senior Isolation

Most teenagers would rather text or Snapchat than actually pick up a phone and speak with someone.  But one teen from the San Francisco area is leading a small group of high school volunteers in reaching out to call isolated seniors.

According to a recent CBS News report, Anika Kumar discovered the value of person to person communication for older adults while volunteering at local assisted living home.  After coming to understand how important feeling connected with others is to seniors who may live alone or have few visitors, Kumar was motivated to form the non-profit Forget Me Not.  The program operates during the school year and teen volunteers call each of the 40 seniors on the phone list once a week.

Social isolation and loneliness among seniors increases the risk of death from heart disease, some cancers, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses.  Studies have found that isolation can be as bad for your health as smoking and worse that being obese.  Loneliness can also lead to a loss of independence for seniors as well as eating disorders, stress, anxiety, depression, sleep problems and suicidal thoughts.

The Institute on Aging has also used the “power of a phone call” to help overcome senior loneliness and social isolation.  The 24-hour Friendship Line is a toll-free national hotline for older and disabled adults who are in crisis or simply in need of a friend.  Older adults can often lose contact with friends and family and become isolated, feeling forgotten to the world around them.    To contact the Friendship Line call 1-800-971-0016.

Many communities are also adopting a free automated call service for isolated seniors such as Quebec’s Pair Program which checks in daily with registered seniors to make sure everything is well.   With smaller families scattered around the world, the number of seniors living alone is expected to rise sharply along with the aging baby boomer population.  By planning ahead, older adults and their families can ensure a better way to age in place.