By Loren Roth, M.D. MPH
Our elders serve as guideposts and models for each of us. They have paved the way for our current and future lives with their wisdom and hard work. As our parents, guardians, and friends age to the point of needing support, it’s our duty to be their lifeline.
Just being there is medicine…without the pills.
Study after study regarding aging has shown that interpersonal support, friendly relationships and activities improve a senior’s quality of life and support physical and mental health. Social connections are related to less cancer recurrence, survival after heart attacks, slower memory decline, and more resistance to the common cold.
Growing up, I lived with my grandmother. Over the course of my first 12 years, I admired her for working until the age of 88 because she could and she wanted to. She was feisty and loving. For me, she was a role model for aging, though in her last years she was dependent. During the end of her life, I could see how moved and engaged she became when people visited with her. She loved to simply hear about their days and share stories from her own life.
In Pennsylvania, nearly 20% of the population is above the age of 75, with Allegheny County having one of the oldest populations in the nation. I, myself, will be 79-years-old in May. While I have been fortunate with good health and continue to happily work full time, there may come a day when I, too, will seek relationships, conversation and support from neighbors and friends.
We were fortunate enough to have our grandmother live in our home with us. However, some seniors do not have that same availability. Family caregivers and volunteers help seniors stay safe and independent in their own homes.
It’s your turn to make a difference in a local senior’s life. There are many ways to do so.
Currently, across the region, nearly 2,000 volunteers help more than 7,500 seniors through United Way’s Open Your Heart to a Senior program. Volunteers offer rides to the doctor, help with grocery shopping, companionship, weekly phone calls, home safety checks and more. Volunteers are always needed, so if it feels like a good fit for you, consider signing up today.
Another great way to give back is by simply offering a hand to an aging neighbor. As we approach snowy weather, consider shoveling a sidewalk or salting their driveway. There are many small ways you can make a difference.
If you are a young person, there is so much to learn from the elderly members of our community. Consider spending time with a local senior to take in some of their wisdom and stories. You’ll be glad you did.
Perhaps you don’t have the time to spare but still feel passion to help. You can always give to United Way’s Impact Fund or designate your gift to its Open Your Heart to a Senior initiative.
You see, it’s easy to cultivate a meaningful relationship with a local senior in need. More than anything, they are looking for someone to talk with and show they care.
Make a difference today at www.uwswpa.org.