By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
More senior citizens are living independently in their homes, thanks to physical modifications to their houses and home-delivered meals. But some of those seniors are missing a vital component to a happy life – human contact.
They may go days without engaging in a conversation, said Lisa Myers, director of social services at the Wood County Committee on Aging.
“We’ve noticed a need from our seniors who are homebound or on meal deliveries,” Myers said. Many seniors really enjoy the brief contact with those delivering meals. “But sometimes that’s just not enough.”
So efforts are underway to create a volunteer “Friendly Visitor” program for senior citizens in Wood County.
The goal of the program is to reduce loneliness and isolation in older adults. Social isolation has been shown to increase rates of depression and mortality, Myers said.
“People need that social interaction, or it can lead to a decline in their mental and physical health,” she said.
The role of the volunteers is simple – just talk and listen. They are not there to cook or clean. Just engage in conversation.
Volunteers will be asked to visit their senior’s home at least one hour a week, to just sit and chit-chat.
“We’re just looking to connect people,” Myers said. “We’re hoping these are lasting friendships.”
Senior citizens can qualify for the visits if they live alone, receive the home-delivered meals, if they can’t drive to one of the county’s senior centers, or if they are on the Wood County Adult Protective Services client list. So far, four seniors have signed up.
So now, the Friendly Visitors program needs volunteers to sign up.
The program will be available throughout Wood County, so volunteers and seniors will be matched by geography.
Volunteers will go through a brief training with Myers, and will be asked to submit a quarterly report on their time with their senior. The volunteers will also be asked to be the “eyes and ears,” and observe any problems the senior might be having.
“This should be a fulfilling volunteer job. Both people would benefit,” Myers said.
Requirements for Friendly Visitor volunteers are:
- At least 21 years old.
- Able to commit for six months.
- Desire to work with older adults.
- Willingness to complete a background check. Wood County Adult Protective Services will pay for the background checks.
The role of the volunteers will be:
- Communicate with the senior weekly.
- Spend a minimum of four hours per month, one-to-one with the senior.
- Provide emotional support.
- Build meaningful relationships.
Anyone interested in volunteering may call Myers at 1-800-367-4935 or 419-353-5661.