Changing attitudes on social isolation

If you’re a recent arrival in Dutchess County from busier areas downstate, you may be puzzled to see this scenario: a pickup truck driven on a rural road by an older man slows down and stops, as the driver recognizes an old friend approaching in his own pickup coming in the opposite direction.

“How’s the fishing?”

“Not bad up my way. You?”

Or it’s two older women stopping to chat at the supermarket. They might not even know each other but they’re having a conversation because they recognize a kindred spirit. After a while they realize you’re trying to get past them to get a box of ziti, and they strike up a conversation with you as well.

What is all this idle chit-chat?

It’s not idle, we’re learning. These people have an instinct for the value of social connections.

At the Office for the Aging, we’re just starting to learn the value of social connectedness, even though seemingly mundane conversations about the weather. The isolation of those older people who couldn’t get to the grocery store or their fishing spot was seen as just an unfortunate byproduct of getting older. Can’t do anything about it, we may have assumed, incorrectly.

We can all help reduce social isolation and the negative health impacts that come with it. Regular readers know about OFA’s fast-growing “Friendly Calls” program that’s been connecting volunteer callers with Dutchess County older adults at risk of loneliness. As the program grows, we’ve invited Friendly Calls participants not only to receive calls, but to become volunteers themselves.

“Friendly Calls” is open to all prospective volunteers over age 18. If you’re just beginning to explore volunteering but don’t want to overcommit, “Friendly Calls” is ideal. The orientation takes less than an hour, and the once-a-week calls to participants last 20-30 minutes.

Every participant in the program has agreed to accept calls; and before a “Friendly Calls” session can begin, the volunteer and participant agree on what time and day of the week the calls will be made.

To find out more, visit www.dutchessny.gov/friendlycalls, email ledgar@dutchessny.gov, or call OFA at 845-486-2555.

Golden Living is prepared by the Dutchess County Office for the Aging, Todd N. Tancredi, director. Email him at ofa@dutchessny.gov.

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