Janet is 72 years old and lives in a senior community in Williston, N.D. She’s always been a very social and upbeat lady, who loves shopping trips, eating out and having coffee with her neighbors. In the last year, though, that has been difficult. Due to COVID-19, Janet now spends most of her days alone. She has lost two good friends to the virus and she’s worried about venturing out too much because asthma makes her high-risk. Several of the local senior services she depends on to maintain her independence have dramatically reduced hours due to staffing shortages caused by the community’s energy downturn. She feels very lonely and disconnected these days, and unsure where to turn for help.
Like Janet, many older adults in western North Dakota are finding it a bit harder these days to get social connection and support.
Now there’s a program to help them. “Aging Well,” a new program launched by Senior Independence services at LSSND, aims to help connect adults in Williams and McKenzie Counties to the services they need to maintain well-being while creating multiple avenues to develop friendships, interact with others and feel engaged with their communities.
The program, formed through a grant from the North Dakota Department of Human Services, is targeted to serve individuals, 60 and older, at no cost to them.
Pandemic, economic slowdown affect seniors
Social distancing around fears of COVID-19 has made some older residents more socially isolated than ever.
Numerous studies show that loneliness and lack of social connections can take a significant toll on our mental and physical health, resulting in increasing likelihood of mortality by 26 percent, a much greater probability for developing dementia, and health impacts equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Those who are extremely socially isolated also cost about $130 per month more in Medicare spending than their non- or less-isolated counterparts.
What does Aging Well do?
The Aging Well Program can assist seniors in addressing these challenges by:
Connecting seniors with the agency’s experienced Aging Well Specialists, who can link clients to community resources to help them maintain independence, such as transportation services or mental health support. The specialists can also help with tasks such as filling out paperwork or applying for assistance.
Connecting seniors to local volunteers in LSSND’s Senior and Volunteer Companions networks who can help with tasks such as simple household repairs or snow-shoveling.
Providing wellness calls to increase social connection and boost senior’s spirits.
Encouraging social engagement through programs like LSSND’s letter-writing program, senior companionship program and call-in support group.
Providing tools to keep seniors active and engaged with others (activity kits, tech support and more).
Linking seniors to meaningful volunteer opportunities if they would like to feel more connected to their communities.
The Aging Well program aims to alleviate that isolation while helping seniors feel a sense of community.