As the Coronavirus carries on throughout the country, so too do the feelings of uncertainty and anxiety across all different populations. These feelings, sprouting from social isolation in many cases, worry many gerontologists because they know isolation is associated with higher rates of heart disease, stroke, and dementia for older adults especially.
However, the New York Times reports that a a helping hand is sweeping the nation: telephone programs connecting people to one another, intended to ease isolation but actually creating friendships along the way. Even before COVID-19, there were many volunteer phone banks across the country (Mon Ami, Senior Care Calls, etc.) that were tailored to check on older adults and/or to pair younger adults with older adults. However, during the pandemic, these phone banks switched from using gig workers to a volunteer model, bringing in a wave of new, meaningful connections. That is not the only change with these programs; phone banks are now being sought out by younger adults as well, as they too have been isolated and craving social connection.
The New York Times reports on the result of these phone banks: unlikely friendships have developed that go beyond age and talk of COVID-19. For example, two women—one a retired poet, the other a busy vice president of an investment firm—each find time on their Sundays to read poems to each other, discuss new romantic relationships, and share life experiences. This scenario is repeated many times with thousands of older and younger adults looking to each other to be their eyes and ears to the outside world.
Neighborhood councils are engaging in phone calls like this as well. One director of a council, Margaret Irwin, arranged 25 volunteers and called 3,000 older adults. Library staff in cities like Plano, Texas, are regularly calling more than 100 older adults.
Doctors and researchers alike agree that loneliness is a complex problem that requires studious dedication and effort, but these simple but powerful phone calls help both parties feel comfort and connection, no matter where they may be dialing from, or what their age may be.
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Padilla M. Older adults remain isolated despite reopening. These programs help. The New York Times. June 8, 2020. Accessed July 8, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/08/Us/Coronavirus-Elderly-Call-Outreach.Html?Searchresultposition=1