A couple of months ago we discussed Japan’s aging generation in Once Coveted Japanese Apartment Buildings Now Homes to Lonely Deaths. Sadly, the loneliness affliction is not limited to Japan and is a global issue facing the elderly around the world. A heart-wrenching article by Huffington Post UK columnist Mandy Gould about her recent commute echoed this and brought it closer to home – on the seat next to her on the bus. Mandy describes the elderly woman, dressed in her finest attire, who took the seat next to her on the bus one morning. The woman asked Mandy if she knew where she could find a movie theater, as she was alone and hoping to see a movie to celebrate her 75th birthday. She said that sitting in her apartment was just too depressing, and she just wanted some noise.
In a city as noisy as New York, it can be hard for those with full lives and many people in them to fathom seeking out noise, but for those who have lost too many of their friends to age or illness, whose families are geographically dispersed, or who are just lonely, it is their daily reality. Some movements are making progressive steps, like the Grandma's Spare Room scheme that connects NYU students with older people that have extra space, or nursing homes in the Netherlands that are offering student housing to infuse youth. These programs are fantastic but we need more of them to help reach the elder population in need of something as simple as company and conversation.
Until that fountain of youth gets discovered, none of us are getting any younger! If you are interested in ways to “pay it forward,” a few Friendly Visitors programs in New York City can match you with an older person with similar interests for a weekly visit (one that might be something the person looks forward to all week!):
Sage Friendly Visitors Program for LGBT Elders
DOROT Friendly Visiting Program
Sunnyside Community Services in Queens offers two fantastic programs in addition to Friendly Visiting--Senior Chat, a service that pairs you with a senior for weekly telephone calls, and Pet Pals, a program that allows you to help seniors care for their animals so they can keep them--sometimes the only company they have. To volunteer, contact Erin at SCSNY at 718-784-6173 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the UK, there is an amazing Call in Time program, part of Age UK's Campaign to End Loneliness, is a telephone befriending service for people over 60. Do you know of any more of these programs? Please email me and tell me about them. If you are looking for a new project you can feel great about, Volunteer Now out of the UK published a document on how to start a befriending service.