As the nation’s top physician, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has confronted two plagues: COVID-19 and loneliness.
These epidemics combined in 2020-2021 to increase mental and physical health risks among aging Americans, among others. Loneliness and social isolation are risk factors more dangerous than obesity and equal to smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes a day, Murthy wrote in declaring them a global epidemic. In fact, illness traced to loneliness and isolation costs Medicare an estimated at $6.7 billion annually, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute (2017).
Human contact is the best medicine. In studying 20 strategies to reduce isolation in older adults, researchers at George Washington University School of Medicine learned older adults receiving a friendly visitor were healthier and happier. A second option—volunteering—helped volunteers themselves by reducing their isolation and cognitive issues.
The Lifeline Friendly Visitor program builds on that knowledge to reduce loneliness and its ill effects among older Tarrant County residents.
Volunteers, many of them seniors themselves, will visit or contact homebound and other isolated seniors at least twice monthly under this new program. Volunteers will be supported by a new GSI Community Navigator, part of GSI’s case services team, who will help connect isolated adults to community services as needed.
By connecting older, isolated adults to GSI and all its services, Lifeline Friendly Visitors also fight another plague that spread silently during the pandemic: elder abuse and exploitation. Social isolation makes aging adults more vulnerable to abuse in all its terrible forms. As home to the Financial Exploitation Prevention Center—a joint project of GSI, the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney, and more than 10 allied social service agencies—GSI can help when a vulnerable adult is at risk.
You can help too. Volunteer to serve as a Lifeline Friendly Visitor and change lives—maybe even your own. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org and ask about the Lifeline Friendly Visitor program today.
The Lifeline Friendly Visitor program is made possible by American Rescue Plan Act dollars granted by Tarrant County.