Reaching out to the elderly is so important
Making friends as an adult is really hard. Making friends as an elderly person is even harder. But a neighbor in California just proved we can all do something to help combat the isolation and loneliness many older people feel by bringing them into the fold. And maybe even becoming friends.
Marleen Brooks of Missouri came home to a heartbreaking note from one of her neighbors. The 90-year-old woman living down the street wrote her saying she was lonely. She asked if the two could be friends.
Brooks shared the note with Frank Somerville, a news anchor at KTVU, who posted the note on his Facebook page.
The note read:
“Would you consider to become my friend.
I’m 90 years old- live alone.
All my friends have passed away.
I’m so lonesome and scared.
Please I pray for someone.”
Brooks wrote a caption of her own which the local news anchor shared as well.
“Came home to this note from a lady that lives down the street from me. Makes my heart sad, but on the bright side it looks like I will be getting a new friend.”
Brooks did exactly that. She went over to her elderly neighbor’s house in the evening to introduce herself with cupcakes in hand. She wrote to Somerville after the two met and described how it went (which he updated on his Facebook page).
“She’s such a sweet lady! And she was over the moon when we came over,” Brooks said. She then reported what the 90-year-old woman, Wanda, said during their visit.
“I hope you didn’t think I was stupid for writing you, but I had to do something. Thank you so much for coming over. I’ve lived here for 50 years and don’t know any of my neighbors.”
Can you imagine living somewhere for 50 years and not knowing any of your neighbors? Like many elderly folks in our communities, she’s isolated and struggling with being perpetually alone.
According to Brooks, Wanda told her she has three sons and one of them died last year of cancer. Another one lives near her and the other lives far away. Wanda is on oxygen and divulged to her new friend that she has congestive heart failure, osteoporosis, and other ailments.
Sadly, Wanda’s story of loneliness and isolation is not unique in our country. Many elderly folks feel left out from their communities and lack crucial social interactions. The consequences of such an arrangement can be really detrimental to the health of our seniors. According to a 2012 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, both social isolation and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of mortality in adults aged 52 and older. Additionally, seniors who feel lonely are more likely to report having poor physical and/or mental health, as reported using 2009 data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project.
One effort here and there can make a huge difference in the lives of our seniors. Whether they’re your family, your neighbor, or just someone you meet at the grocery store. Connecting matters, it’s what keeps us going as humans.
I’m reminded of something that His Holiness Pope Francis said in a TED talk this month. In speaking about the future the Pope said, “Quite a few years of life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone’s existence is deeply tied to that of others: life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.” Indeed, it’s our interactions with one another that make real impact.
The anchor who originally shared this story of friendship shares these similar sentiments. In his post he wrote, “There are so many others out there who are lonely just like Wanda. I would ask that maybe you consider knocking on their door and saying ‘Hi.'” He continued, “I know it would mean the world to them. And who knows, maybe you’ll make a new friend.”