Community support for thousands of isolated people

Community support for thousands of isolated people

“I’ve seen how this support brings a sense of purpose to people’s lives.”

With my colleague Lucy Frost, right, outside our Red Cross office in Newcastle, New South Wales. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Aysha Leo

I’ve heard many heartbreaking stories about elderly people who are isolated and alone. But I take comfort in knowing Red Cross teams like mine provide friendship to thousands of men and women who have no one else.

When people age, their world can shrink as loved ones pass away, relatives move, and they lose their health and mobility. That world narrows even more when cost of living pressures mean they struggle to pay the bills and can’t afford to do things they once enjoyed. Loneliness can affect mental and physical health. One study linked chronic loneliness with an 80 per cent greater risk of death in people aged 50 and older. 

But every day, all over Australia, our volunteers are visiting and phoning older people who are isolated. They provide companionship and conversation, letting folks know they’re valued and they matter. It’s one of the many ways we help older people stay independent, safe and connected.

For me, our support is like a big warm hug.

I coordinate a team of volunteers who phone and visit older people in my community. I’ve seen how this support brings a sense of purpose to people’s lives, giving them a chance to share their knowledge, experience and wisdom. The bonds they form are special because they are friendships built on choice, not on obligation.

What I love about some of these friendships is their ease and simplicity, like the bond between Bill, who’s in his 90s, and his visitor Matt. All of Bill’s friends and workmates have passed on. His wife has gone too, and for years he felt lonely.

Now, he has Matt, who comes to see him every week. They sit and have a yarn. Some days, they spend time in the garden, chatting about the beans over a cup of tea in the sun. It is an uncomplicated relationship between two mates. And it means the world to Bill, bringing him joy and happiness.

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