According to the Archives of Internal Medicine, seniors who feel a greater sense of loneliness also have poorer overall health. Researchers found that 43 percent of seniors report feeling lonely, and these seniors are 45 percent more likely to die early than seniors who have meaningful connections with others. Of the seniors who said they were lonely, 28.4 reported declines in their ability to perform everyday activities like eating or bathing as the study progressed. Just 12.5 percent of those in the non-lonely group reported similar struggles.
Connections with seniors aren’t just good for elderly people; they’re often good for everyone who enters into the relationship. Innovative programs, recognizing the great untapped resource of America’s seniors, have developed ways to make seniors feel included in ways that benefit people of all ages. It might seem unusual to think of MA in TEFL program graduates developing senior care innovations. A quick journey to Brazil will show how Brazilian kids are building relationships — and learning English — by video conferencing with English-speaking seniors.
Seniors Teaching English to Kids in Brazil
CNA language schools in Brazil help over a million students to learn to speak English. One CNA school in Liberdade, Brazil, paired students with retirees at Windsor Park Retirement Community in Chicago. The students video conferenced with seniors so that they could improve their English. Seniors got the benefit of interacting with the students and the chance to experience another culture.
After the students talked to their senior partners, teachers uploaded the conversations and evaluated the students’ performance. What they didn’t anticipate was how much affection the seniors and their Brazilian conversation partners would develop for one another. One student invited a senior to visit Brazil and to stay with his family. Another senior told her conversation partner, “You are my new granddaughter.” Seniors performed a service and felt useful during their time in the retirement home while students got the benefit of their kindness, wisdom and conversation skills.
Seniors Caring for Children Adopted Out of Foster Care
Fifteen percent of seniors live below the poverty line, and they often struggle to find affordable housing. One program in Oregon decided to offer subsidized rent to seniors who were willing to provide assistance to kids adopted out of Oregon’s foster program.
Bridge Meadows is an apartment complex that provides support to families who adopt foster children. Within the complex, seniors pay affordable rents in exchange for 10 hours of volunteer time each week. Funding comes from a mix of corporate, private and not-for-profit donations. The seniors babysit, provide storytimes at the community library or provide tutoring and piano lessons to the kids in Bridge Meadows. Onsite counselors help both the seniors and the families to support kids who’ve come from difficult backgrounds. Seniors get to give back to the community, and both the parents and the adopted children are able to thrive.
Seniors Volunteering With the Peace Corps
Many older Americans send their children off to college or to the workforce, and they start looking for new challenges. The Peace Corps has 7,500 volunteers; 5 percent of those volunteers are over 50 years old. Ada Jackson of Tyler, Texas, fulfilled multiple Peace Corps tours in the Philippines, Gambia, West Africa and Macedonia after her husband died. A retired teacher, Jackson devoted her time to helping teachers in other countries to improve their instructional delivery.
Another Texas retiree, Maura Gardiner, traveled to the Philippines, where she lived out of her backpack for 27 months. When she returned home, she worked as a regional administrative officer for the Peace Corps offices in Dallas. Gardiner told The Dallas Morning News, “As long as you keep thinking that you’re relatively young and don’t come to, ‘Oh, my God, I’m old,’ you can just keep going, just like the Energizer Bunny.”
Engaged Seniors Creating a Better World
Charities and social programs would benefit from recruiting seniors to join their ranks. In addition to creating happier lives and better health outcomes for themselves, seniors can make a positive difference in communities around the world. Some volunteerism could produce tangible benefits, like the reduced housing costs at Bridge Meadows. Other benefits, like adding years to seniors’ lives and life to their years, would be worth more than money could buy.