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Simple phone call gives peace of mind

A daily call from a Red Cross volunteer gives Hemda peace of mind and confidence to live independently.

Hemda, a widow, lives alone in her immaculate retirement unit, decorated with several pieces of her own hand-painted porcelain. The art form was her passion and she had exhibited around the world until failing eyesight forced her to give it up. Despite this setback and her other health and mobility issues, Hemda has a positive outlook and most importantly her independence.

Hemda keeps her mind active, doing Sudoku puzzles and keeping up to date with news and politics. The radio is one of her important links to the outside world; it brings the world of politics into the lounge room where she spends much of her time due to sever mobility issues. 'I've got a wheelie-walker, and without the wheelie-walker I'd have to stay in bed!'

Motivating her to get out of bed each morning is the knowledge that she will be receiving her daily call from a Red Cross volunteer. 'I feel as though I'm going to have a friend ringing me,' says Hemda. 'I can go days without seeing anybody. If I don't need anything, and I don't contact anyone and they know that I'm coping all right, I could be alone. So I'm always looking forward to having a friend,' she says.

Living independently

As well as regular human contact the daily phone calls help Hemda to live independently in her own home, giving peace of mind that if something were to happen to her Red Cross would call in the morning and raise the alarm. 'I was concerned that I could be really sick or maybe I'd fall out of bed, have a fracture, a heart attack, a stroke, nobody would know, and I could just die here all alone,' says Hemda. 'The peace of mind and the security I felt knowing that someone is going to communicate with me is absolutely wonderful.'

According to the Australasian Centre on Ageing at the University of Queensland, social isolation of older people is a major issue in Australia. Around ten percent of Australians over 65 years are socially isolated, with older people also more likely to live alone than younger people. Hemda's situation is typical of many people her age. 'My grandchildren live interstate, my daughter lives quite a long way from here, and she is a GP, she hasn't got time to keep running down or to ring me all the time,' she says.

A simple service

The expanding older population has seen the Telecross service grow from a small telephone club in Adelaide to a national program that makes more than 1.7 million phone calls a year. Ian Coverdale, National Manager for Social Inclusion, says it's a simple service that has been operating in much the same way for four decades. 'Something as simple as a daily phone call can give people who live alone confidence to remain independent and daily human contact that for some is the only conversation they'll have all day.'

Just like those first calls made more than 40 years ago Red Cross still relies on committed volunteers to make calls 365 days of the year. 'You really have to keep your calls quite short so that they can contact other clients as well but the callers who ring are always so caring so friendly,' says Hemda. 'The same description would apply to all of them - they're very friendly, extremely polite, they sound very caring on the phone.'

For more information visit the Telecross page.

If you would like to use the Telecross service, call 1300 885 698.

If you would like to become a Telecross volunteer, check for available volunteer opportunities in your state or territory.

Photo: Australian Red Cross/Bradley Kanaris.

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