As people age, different scenarios require varying types of support from loved ones and caregivers.
One in 5 Americans is 60 or older, with 12,000 more turning 60 each day; of those, 1 in 4 lives alone, and half of seniors living alone lack the income for basic needs, according to Meals on Wheels America.
Consider some of these options when determining how to best support local seniors.
VOLUNTEER WITH A CARE GROUP
In Michiana, there are several organizations offering services to the senior community, with volunteer positions available.
Cass County Council on Aging is a nonprofit providing a broad range of services to Cass County seniors, including adult day service, in-home care, medical transport, safety programs and more. Cass County COA has two main sites, the Edward Lowe Center in Cassopolis and Front Street Crossing in Dowagiac, and offers additional programming in Marcellus and Union.
Volunteers with COA’s Handy Helpers construct accessibility ramps and perform minor residential repairs and maintenance, such as installing grab bars or handrails.
The nonprofit’s Meals on Wheels initiative supplies nutritious food to clients 60 and older, those who are at risk of malnutrition or those unable to visit a MOW center. Deliveries connect clients to community and grant peace of mind to families as their loved ones are visited. COA hosts in-person, congregate meals Monday through Friday at its Cassopolis and Dowagiac locations.
Stopping by a senior’s home for a “hello” can be a comforting gesture to some who may not venture far. As people age, stressors may be amplified as support systems become smaller; exchanging phone numbers, keeping a neighborly eye out and extending availability when needed can help ease concerns of singles or senior couples.
Establishing a small book club or regular social gathering (card games, films, live music, theater, etc.) also aids in keeping minds sharp and gives participants a recurring event to look forward to.
Movement in later years is critical for improving or maintaining overall health.
Local organizations South Bend Venue Parks & Arts and Niles-Buchanan YMCA offer multiple activities for seniors such as water aerobics, a 50-plus softball league, pickleball and seasonal classes, with join fees waived for seniors, though other fees may apply.
Directing seniors toward physical activity can build camaraderie, encourage interaction and help combat sedentary tendencies, especially during colder months. Groups such as Michiana Seniors Golf Association create settings for age-specific competition; MSGA welcomes amateurs 50 and older for an annual season of 10 tournaments spread across northern Indiana, with next season beginning May 2022.
PICK UP THE PHONE
Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts and other messaging platforms are providing instant connection through calls or video chats. Contacting a senior digitally rather than in person may also be safer for the frail or immunocompromised, a form of communication which may help keep loneliness at bay.
For people who prefer to write by hand, groups such as Love For Our Elders connect people with seniors in a letter exchange.
PROMOTE A SENSE OF PURPOSE
Encouraging a senior to pick up a hobby or develop a new skill can be a nudge out of the doldrums. Crafting, volunteer work, social groups, educational courses, games and puzzles, art classes, birdwatching or other outdoor pastimes may lead to a new passion among seniors.
For more than 45 years, South Bend’s Forever Learning Institute has been the leading local educational program serving seniors. Classes are taught by an all-volunteer faculty and cover topics such as dance, music, foreign languages, history and political science, creative arts, literature, spirituality, health and wellness, technology and computers, and business.
Seniors can possess skills, knowledge, maturity and work ethic developed over decades. They’ll likely have a broader career background than younger job candidates and can help set the standard for training new or less-seasoned hires. Retaining senior workers may also reflect a company’s loyalty to employees and business values in the customer’s eye.
Funded by federal grants and donations, Work One of Northern Indiana offers the Senior Community Service Employment Program in St. Joseph, Elkhart, Kosciusko, Marshall, Noble and LaGrange counties.
According to the organization’s site, “for 20 hours per week, participants train on-site at local nonprofits and governmental organizations that serve as steppingstone opportunities to help seniors learn new skills, gain valuable work experience, maintain their independence and ultimately return to the workforce in a permanent, un-subsidized role that improves their quality of life.”