In 2010, the elderly population (60 years and older) living in New York City totaled 1.4 million. Representing 17.2% of NYC’s population, many of these individuals spend their days in nursing homes, where some don’t receive regular visitors and where the social isolation they experience becomes a big risk for their physical and mental health.
According to a 2012 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “social relationships are central to human well-being and are critically involved in the maintenance of health.” Connecting seniors with social resources, such as senior centers, meal delivery, and physical fitness programs, is one way to combat these feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Through New York Cares’ extensive volunteer network, we are able to mobilize volunteers to engage with New York City seniors in a variety of activities that allow them to socialize with not only our volunteers but also with each other. Last year, 3,446 New Yorkers volunteered on 1,556 projects dedicated to engaging the mind and bodies of the senior community.
One of our Team leaders, Brij, leads a group of seniors in a sports and fitness project at Sunnyside Community Services. The exercises he leads include deep breathing, full body stretching, resistance bands and even squats. He also added in a mind exercise, where he has the seniors sit down and try to rub their stomach and pat their head at the same time.
“If I am keeping their bodies active, I should keep their minds active as well,” Brij said.
Two senior sports and fitness participants remarked that they have come to the class every Monday for the past year, and since doing so they have not had as much pain in their joints, find it easier to get up out of bed each day, and take fewer medications for arthritis and pain.
“I would be a lump on a log if it wasn't for these New York Cares volunteers getting me out of bed each Monday morning,” said one of those senior participants.
From Zumba classes to creative writing to manicures and spa treatments, New York Cares hosts a variety of programs to appeal to a wide range of senior interests.
Team Leader, Cherie Acierno, has been leading the Creative Writing project every Friday since May 2012 at The New Jewish Home. The program, recently highlighted in the NJH newsletter featured poetry by resident, Mildred.
"It was a humbling, unbelievable experience having my poetry read in the auditorium,” Mildred said. “Lately, it has been difficult expressing myself, and at times it feels frustrating. Sometimes I feel lonely, nobody to talk to, unable to express myself. I am glad to be at the writers group. I am glad to be around friends.”
Often it can be difficult to measure the tangible impact of senior programming but Mildred’s words remind us of how much of a difference our volunteers can make in seniors' lives.
By offering opportunities to seniors living in assisted care facilities that they would not normally have, volunteers go a long way to reduce the social isolation that many seniors experience. Mildred put it perfectly - we are all glad to be around friends.