As we age, one of our biggest fears is often about being alone. It can be harder to have a social life as we age, whether it's due to location, communication, or difficulty moving around. The term for this is social isolation, and it's especially common in adults over the age of 65.
"Social isolation is the absence of social relationships," Forget Me Not services says. "It is especially prevalent among adults over the age of 65 who live alone and are unable to participate in many activities due to issues regarding transportation, physical impairments, or lack of confidence in their social skills. This isolation can lead to increased risks of depression, cardiovascular diseases, and feelings of denial, guilt, and self-loathing."
Studies have proven that a simple phone call can help put these feelings of isolation at bay and increase someone's sense of purpose.
For Anika Kumar, she had seen the affects of social isolation on an older person first hand. At just 15 years old, she began volunteering at an assisted living facility. Kumar would see people daily and chat with them, and she started to notice how much their conversations meant to the elderly people.
"They have so much to share, so many stories, so much advice and encouragement. It’s really great the relationship you can have with them,” explained Kumar.
It finally dawned on Kumar that there was something she could do to help combat social isolation in seniors, so she gathered up her friends and started something really special.
Kumar formed the non-profit organization called Forget Me Not, which organizes phone calls to Santa Clara County seniors who are in need of a friend. For the past two years, Kumar has run the program out of classroom at her high school along with some of her friends. They brainstorm topics, such as politics, sports, entertainment and current events, then call every one of the 40 seniors on the phone list.
Britt Bassoni of the Episcopal Senior Communities trains the Forget Me Not volunteers and supervises the call sessions.
“Some [seniors] need reassurance that things are going to be okay, or this will pass. Others just want a conversation around their interests,” explained Bassoni.
"I think it’s wonderful they don’t forget about us,” said Sunnyvale resident Mary Baldonado, 78. “I only really go outside of my house when I have to go to the store or to the doctor. I get bored at home.”
And it's not just benefiting the seniors, either.
“A lot of us are choosing our career paths and our colleges and things like that, so they all have really great advice too since they’ve gone through similar situations,” Kumar said. “It’s really surprising how much I have in common with an 86-year-old man.”
Kumar has since graduated high school and is heading to the University of California, Berkeley, but she hopes the other volunteers will be able to keep the program going strong. She also hopes to be able to spread the services to other regions in the near future.
If you would like to sign up for the Forget Me Not program, or are looking for more information on how to volunteer, you can visit the website at forgetmenotservices.org.