Over the last year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic has been foremost in our collective consciousness. It dominates our thoughts, our conversations, our habits. For many, it’s been all-consuming, inescapable—and for good reason.
What most people aren’t aware of is there’s another epidemic going around that isn’t being talked about as much, one that predates the COVID-19 pandemic by years. And in spite of the lack of attention it’s receiving and the fact that it isn’t spread via respiratory droplets, this silent epidemic is causing widespread harm. For some people, it even has the potential to be deadly.
It’s the epidemic of loneliness.
Some people might be inclined to scoff at the idea. An epidemic of loneliness? That’s nothing new. After all, we’ve all been forced to isolate and socially distance for the last year and a half; we’ve all missed our families and friends; we’ve all been forced to navigate the trials of closed schools and daycares and virtual workspaces.
But like the COVID-19 pandemic, the epidemic of loneliness is affecting some populations more than others. In particular, it’s been especially hard-hitting amongst the senior population.
That’s exactly what happened to Claudia, a 74-year-old woman right here in Wickenburg, AZ, who experienced the dangerous side of the loneliness epidemic firsthand.
It’s not like Claudia is completely alone in the world (although for many seniors, that may be the case). She has sons, grandchildren, and (soon!) great-grandchildren. Although she’s single and lives alone, she has a support system. Still, her sons were busy with their own lives and families, and as a result, weren’t able to give their mom the level of care she needed.
Claudia found herself becoming increasingly isolated after the first COVID lockdowns began. She was depressed, and in addition to impacting her mental health, her loneliness began to have consequences for her physical health, too. Her days were mostly the same; she was eating grilled cheese sandwiches for most meals, and it didn’t take long for malnutrition to set in. For a little while, things weren’t looking good for her.
The saddest thing about Claudia’s story is that it isn’t unique. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), nearly 25% of adults aged 65 and older are considered socially isolated. And as Claudia’s experience demonstrates, the consequences of loneliness can be far, far worse than just decreased happiness. The CDC also reports that people who experience social isolation are at a higher risk for conditions like dementia, heart disease, and stroke (among other maladies).
Fortunately, Claudia’s story has a happy ending. One of her sons convinced her to go to FSL’s Wickenburg Senior Center. Our senior centers are supported in part by community donations, and are run by trained professional staff members. For lonely people like Claudia, FSL’s senior centers are a haven as they serve fresh, nutritious lunches each day, offer educational programs and recreational activities for attendees, and give them the chance to socialize and form relationships with other community members. Claudia’s situation improved drastically after she began to attend the senior center on a daily basis. “I am so happy to have been introduced to FSL,” Claudia said. “It’s made my life a lot healthier.”
At FSL, we are committed to helping Arizonans like Claudia. We serve roughly a thousand nutritionist-approved meals each month at each of our senior centers in Peoria and Wickenburg. Each of those meals represents a person who leaves the senior center feeling not only healthier, but also happier and more connected than when they arrived.
In addition to our nutritious meals programs, we also help seniors in other ways through our CAP offices located within the senior centers. There, we provide financial assistance with rent and utility bills and connect community members with other social services and resources. And with the holidays right around the corner, we are determined to ensure that no senior in the Phoenix area is alone or hungry on Thanksgiving Day.
The thing is, we can’t do it alone.
The success of our programs rely on generous community donations to help seniors like Claudia who are battling the loneliness epidemic. If you are able, please consider contributing any amount to support our efforts to improve the lives of seniors, and Arizonans of all ages. We are a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, your donations qualify for dollar-for-dollar credit against your state taxes—meaning that by giving, you have the opportunity to experience the double satisfaction of making a tangible difference in your own life and someone else’s.
Our core focus is to provide integrated health and housing solutions for those who need them . We offer a wide range of affordable housing and home- and community-based services, including safe, affordable housing options, nutritious meal programs, health and wellness programs, and support for caregivers—all of which are designed to enable Arizonans of all ages to live happier, healthier, more independent lives. If you or someone you know is struggling to have their needs met, don’t hesitate to contact us to find out how we can help you. And if you’re able, consider donating or volunteering your time to our mission. We can’t wait to work with you!
*Blog written by Nonprofit Megaphone writers under the direction of FSL staff.