Senior Friendship Centers Offer Solutions to Combat the Epidemic of Loneliness

The Giving Coast

Recently U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy M.D. published an alarming eighty-two page report stating that loneliness and social isolation are national epidemics. Since 1972, Senior Friendship Centers (SFC) has been working to eradicate loneliness among older adults and has been providing solutions to combat this growing public health crisis in Southwest Florida. Brother William Geenen, SFC founder picked up on this in the early 1972 when he said, “Isolation and loneliness are the malnutrition of aging.” In Sarasota County, more than 40,000 seniors, or about 23% of the population, live alone. According to the report, social isolation increases the risk of premature death as much as a person smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. Lonely or isolated older adults report a greater incidence of depression and anxiety and suffer a mortality rate comparable to that linked to smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol, and physical inactivity. The U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory urges community-based organizations to promote stronger social connections. “Senior Friendship Centers is at the forefront of developing innovative approaches to foster a culture of connection among older adults,” said Erin McLeod, president, and CEO. “We have many programs and services such as caregiving resources, adult day services, dining centers, home-delivered meals, exercise classes, lifelong learning, friendly visitors, and telephone reassurance calls to provide an avenue for older adults to be engaged and involved in life,” McLeod added. One SCF member echoes the heartbreak of loneliness. “When my wife passed away, I didn’t do anything. I hated the world. After joining Senior Friendship Centers, my health became ten times better,” said Ed Rycraft. This place takes care of me. If I didn’t have the Center, I don’t think I’d have a happy life.”

Here are a few ways older adults can combat loneliness and live a happy and engaged life according to McLeod: Find group activities—Whether it’s stroking the paintbrush, dining with a friend, or paddling the pickleball, our world-renowned activity centers are places where you can find your passion, eat a nutritious meal, and participate in engaging activities while socializing; Stay engaged in the community—SFC provides a multitude of volunteer opportunities, from greeting people at the welcome desk, visiting local seniors, instructing exercise classes, entertaining, and more. Volunteering not only creates a sense of meaning, purpose, and mattering, but it allows seniors to engage; Get help—When a spouse or partner passes away, survivors sometimes fail to thrive on their own without intervention. SFC offers Telephone Reassurance and Friendly Visitor Program, where volunteers are matched with seniors who are homebound or unable to travel unaided. “The U.S. surgeon general’s advisory highlights an issue that we have been working to combat for fifty years,” Mcleod said. We are proud to be a part of the solution to fight this public health epidemic and build vibrant communities where people don’t just survive, but thrive.”

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