As people are living longer lives, it’s important that we find ways to stay connected to our community. A recent report from the Florida Department of Elder Affairs confirms that by 2020, people 60+ will exceed the number of children by nearly 40%. From expanding our public policy efforts to investing in programs that help older adults stay healthy, independent and engaged, we’re committed to ensuring that services are available and suited for this growing and valued segment of our community.
A focus on older adult socialization
Research shows that socialization plays a significant role in overall health as people age. Simply spending time with close friends and family members – say experts – reduces stress, boosts cognitive health and improves memory – all vital to independent living and longevity.
At United Way, we invest in home and community-based services that reduce the risk of isolation. This past year, through United Way-supported programs, 9,453 older adults received fitness, social outings, nutritious meals, help at home to bathe or dress or shop, and support for their caregivers.
Frequent social connections improve cognitive health
Seniors often rely on family members for social support, but that’s not always possible. For older adults who’ve retired from jobs, who live far from loved ones or who are widowed, building a social network can be a challenge. Initiatives like our Golden Wishes program that grants seniors special wishes like first-time theater tickets or a simple embrace can help fill that void.
“It’s about showing compassion to the elderly,“ Yolanda Valencia, Golden Wishes volunteer, says. “I visit with this one Korean War Veteran and I always ask, ‘Can I give you a hug?’ And he always says, “Please do,” says Valencia. “You listen to their stories. Everybody has a story to tell. And elderly people have fascinating stories.
“You know how food brings people together to connect and socialize?” says Valencia. “That’s what Golden Wishes is doing. I wish this concept could go viral because it makes a difference.”
Locating sources of social support
United Way Continue United and ReadingPals are two other opportunities for those 55 and older to stay connected. United Way Continue United offers a wide range of volunteer, educational and social programming and opportunities for those who wish to stay active and engaged in their community while also contributing their time and talent. United Way ReadingPals matches adult volunteer readers with preschoolers to help nourish an early love for literacy. Volunteers read high-quality books and engage with the children through interactive learning activities that build vocabulary and literacy skills and bridge the achievement gap for children entering kindergarten.
By providing opportunities for people to interact and develop meaningful relationships, United Way is helping our seniors not only age gracefully, but with vitality.