“Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.” This quote, made by President Woodrow T. Wilson, calls to mind the important duty we have in cooperation and in offering the gift of our friendship to others. While he was generally referring to our relationship with other nations, this quote applies to daily life as well. Particularly, we must seek out those in need, namely, isolated or live alone, such as older Americans. Per Pew Research Center, older people are more likely to live solo, without a spouse or partner, in the U.S. than elsewhere in the world. It is estimated that 27% of adults ages 60 and older live alone and tend to live in smaller households. Since an increasing number are isolated due to the pandemic, our calling as neighbors, good citizens, and as God’s children, to extend our friendship to older people if they are receptive. A simple start is by waving and saying hello, perhaps getting to know family members who come to check in on them and by introductions through safe social distancing practices.
Friendship is a gift we can offer to seniors, especially those experiencing physical or cognitive decline, medical conditions, sadness and depression, stress, or general isolation. Many benefits can arise from being a good friend. Some studies, such as one conducted by the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging, suggest that loneliness can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease in the elderly. It also puts older citizens at risk of elder abuse, leaving them vulnerable to abusive family members, scammers, financial users, or bad caregivers. According to the National Council on Aging, socially isolated seniors are 60% more likely to see the quality of their life decreasing and have concerns over aging in place due to economic and other insecurities. Thus, being close to an isolated senior can produce many benefits, including giving them something happy to look forward to during the day, decreasing health risks associated with loneliness, and providing them with some protection against abuse and uncertainties.
There are numerous reasons why people live alone. Statistically, in countries with more advanced economies, people generally have fewer children and have them later in life, whereas in poorer countries, extended-family households are more common. In addition, there are more older women who live alone than men, partially explained by longevity. Though there are many older Americans who live alone successfully and maintain active and healthy lifestyles, a significant number of the older population feel the effects of senior isolation and loneliness. These emotions may be worsened during the pandemic. But things are not hopeless. Being a friend to a senior citizen is an enriching experience for all. Not only can the older generation impart great wisdom, being close to someone older can help younger generations experience feelings like compassion, empathy, inspiration, and joy.
Younger generations can connect with seniors living alone in many ways. This includes helping with physically burdensome household tasks, such as taking out the trash, changing a lightbulb, shoveling snow, raking leaves, or trimming hedges. Since it’s important for older people to stay in touch with family members who are living far away, teaching them new ways to connect with their families is beneficial, such as setting up a zoom call. Since nourishment is sometimes an obstacle for seniors, families can cook extra and deliver meals to older adults who may be shut in or living on low incomes. Or we may offer contact information for emergencies and rides to the doctor’s office or grocery store. Something as simple as checking in with an older neighbor or sitting together in the shade to talk or enjoy music while socially distancing can brighten everyone’s day. Volunteering in the community is also an excellent way to get to know and help local seniors. By offering our friendship, we not only are bridging the gap between generations, but we are cementing the world together in the greatest way possible way.
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