2020 was a challenging year for all of us, but Americans have found ways to adapt to the new normal, more or less. One of the demographics that was hit the hardest were senior citizens. In addition to being highly susceptible to the damaging effects of COVID, they also had to practice social distancing. This meant more than being away from other nursing home residents. It also meant solitude due to a lack of visitors. Many family events were also missed. Babies were waved at through glass partitions, and families were denied bedside vigils with their dying loved ones.
Numerous studies have shown the power of hope in terms of happiness and quality of life. Now that vaccines are rolling out, there is a push to ramp up social activities and volunteer efforts, especially for people who cannot leave their homes. There are several ways that volunteers can assist older adults, such as grocery and pharmaceutical trips, driving to and from medical appointments, cleaning up their houses, and delivering meals.
Many of the already established volunteer organizations, such as The Good Neighbor Program, had trouble getting staff help throughout 2020 because of employees’ fears for their own safety. It became harder to find volunteers who weren’t anxious about the proximity to a high-risk group. This made the managers step up and adapt, absorbing more hands-on tasks at an almost 24/7 pace.
One thing that many people don’t realize is how much older adults value their independence. They love going grocery shopping themselves. When that was taken from their routine, it was essential to train all of our staff to empower the recipient throughout the process. The shopper would take the time to discuss special needs or requests ahead of time and then stay in touch throughout the shopping experience.
For older people who crave visitors and companionship, there are organizations such as Caring Callers. This agency works hard to find compatible matches for clients by selecting volunteers with similar interests and personality styles. Weekly visits are either outside or over the phone. The waitlist for in-person visits is quite long since most older people prefer not to use the phone.
Another organization, called The Loan Closet, accepts lightly used medical equipment to donate to anyone who needs it. This can be very handy after an injury. Some items include crutches, walkers, canes, and wheelchairs. It’s a great community resource that saves people a lot of money.