Part I of V
Companionship: the most coveted gift
For many seniors having someone to talk to is the greatest gift
Writer’s Note: With the holidays approaching, we are taking the time at La Vida Latina to offer options for unique gifts this holiday season. In part one of our series we visit with a women whose young adult church group visits the elderly as a mutual benefit to all involved.
The holidays are often considered the time of year when families get together to revel in old memories and create new ones. A growing demographic, however, is losing out on that revelry: seniors.
“The holidays mark an excellent opportunity for volunteering in a senior living community as there are often activities and opportunities to help with festive celebrations and gatherings,” said Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, a consultant and speaker with nearly 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, on the senior living blog of the senior care help center “A Place for Mom”. “People need people during the holiday season; whether they’re 25 or 95. But especially if they’re an aging senior who doesn’t have anyone else with whom they can celebrate.”
Angela Strand has led her church group to several senior living facilities in the Denver Metro area since 2011 and has enjoyed seeing her small group of 12 to 17-year-olds grow into a large group of participative teens.
“I’ve had so many centers tell me how grateful their residents our with our visits and, inversely so many of my kids tell me how blessed they felt to listen to such wonderful stories and put a smile on someone else’s face,” she said.
According to “A Place for Mom” senior isolation brings an increase risk of mental and physical health issues including elder abuse, higher blood pressure, increased mortality in seniors and increased risk of long-term illnesses. That isolation can be broken through volunteer visits.
“It’s humbling to think that we can prolong a life through a series of visits,” Strand added.
Caitlin Strauss, 17, has been visiting a variety of senior care facilities through Strand’s group since she was 13.
“It helped me see the world in a different way,” she said. “I think often we get caught up in status updates and selfies that we forget to turn our lens outward and listen to someone else for a while. Once you cross that barrier and start listening to their stories or participating in activities like dancing or knitting or just going outside for a walk, their world and your world start to open up.”
Strand, 37, said she came up with the idea from her own bitter, personal experience.
“I lost my grandmother over the holidays in 2011,” she said holding back tears. “I blew it. I had the opportunity to visit her, but I put a bunch of excuses in may way. The flight was too much, I had given birth three months ago to my son - our second child - there was too much going on, too much planning and chaos, etc., etc. All of that was true, but none of it was as big as I made it seem at the time.”
Strand’s grandmother passed away on December 11 that year.
“I promised myself I would not put myself first like that again” she said. “She never got to see her grandson and that was on me.”
Now Strand finds some redemption by taking her youth group to see people who have not had visits in months, even years.
“We usually visit whoever has the time to visit with us,” she said. “Not everyone can take on visitors, either, so we have to be cognizant of that, but I do ask when setting up the appointments, to be paired with those who don’t get regular visitors. That company, albeit for just an hour or two can really make someone’s day special - any time of the year.”
Senior care facilities throughout Colorado welcome volunteer visits. Contact your local care facility to find out how to volunteer.