NORWALK, CT — Nearly one-third of older adults experience loneliness or social isolation, and that was before the coronavirus outbreak. If there has been any benefit that the elderly have derived from COVID-19, it’s that the pandemic has focused increased attention on the importance of keeping senior members of the community engaged.
St. Louis University sociologists Marla Berg-Weger and J. E. Morley, writing in “The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging”, said that,”With sheltering-in-place and stay-at-home orders, many older adults lost usual ways to connect with support networks and health and social service providers and are spending increased time alone. Many of the traditional strategies for engaging older adults have become obsolete in the new normal.”
Family & Children’s Agency, based in Norwalk, serves more than 13,000 people in Fairfield County. A good number of them are seniors, for whom FCA provides emergency alert systems, caregiver support, personal care attendants, live-in assistance so they can stay in their homes, and other resources.
One of those resources is James Mannix, a rising senior at Providence College and Wilton resident. A marketing major and finance minor, Mannix saw his banking internship cut short due to the pandemic, and pivoted to volunteer work at FCA.
The agency assigned 15 of their senior clients to Mannix, who now phones them regularly. Sometimes the call is just a wellness check that will last no more than five minutes, Mannix said.
Other times, they need a freezer.
“I helped a woman find a freezer chest that seemed to be sold out everywhere,” Mannix told Patch. They were available online, but internet shopping was unfamiliar to the senior. They were pricey, too, but the FCA used some of its emergency funds to purchase it for her.
But make no mistake: the seniors aren’t the only ones benefiting here.
“It really gives you perspective,” Mannix said. “It’s really cool to dive into someone else’s life and understand what they have gone through. Someone who has lived 80-90 years, has a lot of experience. In one case I had the privilege to learn about a woman’s husband’s experience in World War II and her children’s tenure with the military.”
Mannix is also trading on his grandmother’s connection to FCA, as she was a dedicated and long-time volunteer with Minks to Sinks, the Wilton-based group which holds the twice-annual tag sale to benefit FCA.
The elderly who are benefiting from the phone calls are clients in FCA’s Home Care program. Ligia Masilamani, director of that program, said the calls Mannix is making mean the world to seniors who feel not only trapped inside by the virus, but acutely targeted by it. “Providing extra avenues of support and connection are essential to the mental and physical well-being of our clients.”
For Mannix, it’s all just basic common sense.
“I think it’s nice to have a 21-year-old guy or girl calling them, to check on how they’re doing. It reminds them of their grandchildren,” he said.
This article originally appeared on the Norwalk Patch