“I don’t think I would’ve coped without her”

A Red Cross visitor is helping 94-year-old Kathryn overcome isolation and loneliness.
Katie (left) and Kathryn. Photo: Aysha Leo/Australian Red Cross.

"If it weren't for Katie, I'd feel like a forgotten woman,” says 94-year-old Kathryn. “I would feel isolated. I'd be stuck in the house and not see anyone.”

Kathryn is so grateful to Katie, her Red Cross visitor. Every Friday, they chat and share stories over a cup of tea. Sometimes Katie brings homemade soup, crossword puzzles and treats for her friend.

"I don't know what I would have done without her. Katie's always spoiling me and bringing things that I need. It’s wonderful to have someone to help when you are confined.”

One of the hardest things about getting old is outliving close friends and loved ones, says Kathryn, whose husband died four years ago. “They all died in their 80s, and I am the only one left. That's the worst of getting old … you haven’t got anyone to talk to and confide in; someone who knows and understands your life.”

Kathryn doesn’t often go out anymore because she is unsteady and needs a walker to get around. But when she was more mobile, she and Katie would go to the lake for picnics, visit art galleries and go shopping.

"We always enjoyed ourselves and had lots of fun, and it was so good for Kathryn. We might be two, three, four hours [shopping]. Then we’d go to a coffee shop, treat ourselves to a cuppa, and something to eat,” says Katie. “We don't get out shopping now because of the probability Kathryn could have a fall.”

Across Australia, hundreds of people in their 70s, 80s and 90s, who are isolated and lonely, have been paired with a Red Cross volunteer visitor. The program has been running for almost 20 years.

Older people are among the most vulnerable in our communities. Researchers say that almost a quarter of older Australians feel lonely either some or at least most of the time. And another study found chronic loneliness is linked to an 80% greater risk of death in people aged 50 and over.

The buddy program is part of an umbrella of support we provide, including daily check-in phone calls, meal deliveries and drivers who take people to medical appointments. Our teams help older, isolated people stay well, connected and independent.
“It’s marvellous to have Katie. I don’t think I would’ve coped without her,” says Kathryn. Photo: Aysha Leo/Australian Red Cross.

Kathryn and Katie, who both live in Newcastle in New South Wales, met almost three years ago. They quickly discovered they had a lot in common, including a love of crossword puzzles, gardening and chocolates. And Katie’s full name is also Kathryn.

They often chat about Kathryn's younger days. Another favourite topic is the birds visiting Kathryn's veranda to eat the food she leaves. “I'm a nature lover, always have been. We have discussions about the behaviour of birds,” she says. “We can always find things to talk about… She’s come to be a great friend.”

Kathryn says she would feel lonely if she didn’t have Katie. “It’s marvellous to have Katie. I don’t think I would’ve coped without her … She’s been so wonderful to me. I was quite overcome to think someone was interested in doing these things for people [like me].”

Katie is also a Red Cross visitor to another older woman who lives in a nursing home and an elderly man. “They’re a joy. And it’s a joy to see the happiness you can bring just by spending an hour or two with them every week. I wish I could do it every day.”

Thanks to our supporters, Red Cross people like Katie were there for more than 10,300 older people last financial year. Their support included thousands of phone calls and visits to people at home and in aged care.

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