Here in Australia, it is believed that around one in five (19%) older Australians are socially isolated, while estimates of close to one in four (24%) show that this issue has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S.
As society races towards the year 2020, it seems as though ‘time’ is something that very few people have to spare, but thankfully, there are still some individuals out there who are willing to make time for those who desperately need it.
Danielle Burleson spent many years helping to feed homeless military veterans in the city of Tucson in the US state of Arizona, before making the decision to change careers and join an assisted living senior care facility.
“As I learned more about senior care, I also learned that there is a high abandonment rate at this age,” said Danielle.
“A lot of Seniors who were never married actually have no family left, and there are some who have actually been abandoned by their families.
“When this happens, they are left to take care of their own basic needs,” she said.
According to Danielle, the majority of elderly people living in assisted living facilities can barely cover the costs of accommodation without financial assistance from the state, and this forces many seniors to skimp on things that most people would deem as necessities.
While residents with family checking-in often receive assistance in purchasing things like personal hygiene products, underwear, extra blankets, and socks – those without family are often forced to compromise and go without.
“It broke my heart,” said Danielle.
“These are amazing people with these great stories, who have led interesting lives. I couldn’t bear to see them without socks on their feet – so I slowly started buying what I could for those in need.
“As a single mother I could only do so much, so I turned to family and friends in the area. I decided that each friend could be responsible for one person and I called it ‘Adopt a Senior.”
According to Danielle, residents are often embarrassed at first or overwhelmed, but these feelings soon dissipate and result in big smiles and lots of hugging.
Some residents are brought to tears by the noble acts of kindness and the vast majority of families and seniors remain friends for life as the families make continual visits.
“They are truly so thankful,” said Danielle.
“The first year, I had only five families volunteer, but now in the second year I have already had 32 different groups and families adopt a senior and it has been so rewarding to everyone involved.
“It is so heartwarming to see people’s faces light up over the basic things. It’s nice to give people back their confidence and self-respect.
“When they feel good about themselves because they have clothes again and their personal needs are covered, it changes their whole day.”
While most people welcome gifts at any time of year, it’s impossible to overstate just how important this type of gesture can be for an elderly person during the holiday period.
The festive season is renowned for the joy of good company, but those who are without family and friends can find this time of the year extremely disheartening.
Despite being associated with high temperatures and desert landscape, Tucson can get very chilly across the Christmas period, which is why big fuzzy blankets have become such a big hit with the seniors who receive gifts from ‘adopted’ families.
“What better time to do it then over the holidays,” said Danielle.
“I would love to see this grow. I think every Assisted Living Facility and retirement community should adopt this program.”
“I am more than willing to show anyone interested how to make this a positive experience, but you don’t need someone to help you make an impact.”
“If you see a senior in your community, take the time to stop and say “hi,” and then ask them if they need anything.”
It’s inspiring to think that such a simple concept is producing positive results, and the more people who understand that they can make a difference will result in better outcomes for vulnerable people from all walks of life.
Everyone likes receiving presents during the festive season, but your presence might just be the greatest gift that you can give an older person this Christmas.