Social isolation may be one of the most overlooked health risk factors that accompanies aging. One in five adults over age 50 is affected by isolation, a problem associated with higher rates of chronic disease, depression dementia and death, according to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. The decrease in interaction gets worse with age because of factors like retirement, loss of hearing and death of family and friends.
People who identified themselves as lonely had a 59 percent greater risk of health decline and a 45 percent greater risk of death according to physicians at University of California San Francisco who analyzed Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data. A wave of new research indicates that “loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking,” Harvard Medical School physician Druv Kullar, MD, MPP, wrote in the New York Times.
One trigger to loneliness occurs when older adults can no longer drive for health and safety reasons. It not only becomes a challenge to buy groceries and get to medical appointments, this lack of mobility leads to less interaction with others in daily life.
Help with Transportation
At Seniors’ Resource Center, we’ve learned that surrendering the car keys often cuts the individual’s last thread of independence. Our volunteers and staff help seniors feel dignity and hope. Many of them develop strong friendships with the people they help.
Our organization provides rides and companionship to seniors through our Transportation Service that is based in Wheat Ridge, Evergreen and Littleton. Last year, SRC Transportation provided more than 140,000 rides to over 3,000 senior citizens. The service is “door through door” with the driver coming into the house at the beginning of the ride to help the elder with a coat to carrying in groceries or meeting other needs on the return.
Often, our drivers and riders form friendships over time. For example, Steve Dalrymple of Arvada began providing rides to Littleton resident Dorothy in 2016, first to get her hair done and then to medical appointments. She fell and was hospitalized last fall and spent time in a skilled nursing facility. Now that she is back home, Steve is taking Dorothy to exercise class twice a week. Such regular and long time contact gives our elders something to look forward to each month, preserving their dignity. It also relieves family members of the concern about how their loved one will get to important appointments.
In Home Assistance
Seniors’ Resource Center also provides the human touch through staff-supported volunteers who come weekly to help inside the senior’s home. Some of these volunteers provide companionship to someone in fragile health so the caregiver can run errands or take a break. Other SRC program staff and volunteers help with light housekeeping and minor home repairs. SRC staff and volunteers develop relationships with their clients, not just provide services. For instance, our Chores employees get to know clients when they visit up to three times a year to provide deep cleaning and yard work.
SRC also provides adult day care for seniors with dementia, developmental disabilities or other health issues. Families can sign up for one or more days a week, which provides respite for caregivers. Clients participate in engaging activities, such as making music or art projects and take regular outings and group meals that help people connect and build relationships.
Our mission is to help people stay in their homes as long as possible, which is what seniors overwhelmingly prefer. Seniors’ Resource Center has expanded its services over the years to meet the evolving needs of seniors, including services that reduce their social isolation.
Volunteer opportunities abound at SRC. Volunteering enhances one’s physical and mental health status and combats social isolation. Volunteering helps provide structure to one’s day and gives the volunteer a renewed sense of self-worth and satisfaction by contributing unselfish time, talent and experience to another.
Many of SRC’s services are no or low-cost, underwritten by grants and donations. We encourage readers to visit our website or call if you have a need or concern or would like to help elders in your community stay connected. To volunteer or get direct help or referrals for a loved one, visit www.SRCaging.org or call 303-238-8151.
John Zabawa, President and Chief Executive Officer of Seniors’ Resource Center, has developed programs for seniors in various roles at SRC for more than 35 years. He has seen the needs and concerns of seniors evolve over the decades, adding new services as needs arise.