Fighting loneliness and social isolation together

Volunteer delivering meal

The problem of loneliness and social isolation has been recognized as a public health crisis. While this epidemic affects people of all demographics, older adults tend to be more at risk due to factors such as being more likely to live alone or having limited mobility.

May is Older Americans Month and this year’s theme of “Powered by Connection” recognizes the importance we hold in each other’s lives. The U.S. Administration for Community Living is calling on the public to find ways to connect with older adults, which could include volunteering for Meals on Wheels.

Social isolations risks for the senior population

According to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), more than one-third of people aged 45 and older feel lonely. Older adults are more likely to feel lonely or socially isolated because they might live alone, lose family or friends, have ongoing health issues, or have trouble hearing.

Folks receiving Meals on Wheels often experience social isolation. A recent survey of meal recipients found that 71 percent of meal recipients lived alone and 64 percent said the delivery volunteer is always or sometimes the only person they see that day.

How Meals on Wheels helps connect people

Both meal recipients and delivery volunteers can benefit from the interaction that happens naturally on a meal delivery route. Volunteer Cordelia Henderson explained:

“I was at home here in my apartment building and I was feeling kind of lonely,” recalled Cordelia, “I needed to find something else to get involved with [so I started volunteering]. I wish you could see their faces when you bring their meals. I have a few folks where I try to make them the last ones because I know they like to talk.”

Opportunities to deliver meals exist throughout the Twin Cities, with programs needing extra help as they continue to serve record numbers of individuals.

Clyde Green is a Meals on Wheels recipient whose wife recently moved into assisted living. He looks forward to interacting with volunteer drivers. “The volunteers are so friendly,” he says. “I live alone so it’s good to get interaction with fellow human beings.”

For both Cordelia and Clyde, Meals on Wheels has provided a social outlet and a way to connect with their communities. From our recent survey, 57 percent of meal recipients reported that volunteer visits helped them feel less lonely or less isolated.

What you can do if you’re feeling lonely

Feeling lonely is nothing to be ashamed of. The fact that loneliness has been labeled an epidemic means that many of your neighbors are going through the same thing.

Volunteering in your community is often listed as a way to connect with others, and there are other resources available, including signing up for meals if it’s right for you. Our partners at hello4health.org offer numerous resources on combatting loneliness and their article How to Talk about Loneliness offers great tips for starting the conversation, whether it’s you or a loved one who’s feeling lonely.

Here are a few other resources with building connections in your community with a focus on older adults:

You can also check out our conversation with Erica Burger, a licensed therapist with Allina Health, for more tips on what to do if you’re experiencing loneliness.

Whether or not you are feeling the effects of loneliness, know that you can help by connecting with your neighbors. By taking time out of your day to volunteer, or even just have a conversation with a neighbor or a loved one, you are helping alleviate this public health crisis.

Click to learn more about Meals on Heels 2024