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We’ve heard many times over how the coronavirus has changed our lives. Our reality is that it will be a long time before things settle into a new normal.

We are seeing our area finally starting to come back to life again as businesses and offices begin to reopen. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of re-opening, it’s so important to remember that it’s not business as usual and that some people, especially older adults with chronic medical conditions, are still especially vulnerable. These are the folks who must be extra careful and may find that they still aren’t getting out of their houses very often, if at all, and that’s OK for most people. They are doing what they have to do to decrease their risk of becoming infected with the virus.

However, some people may find that socially isolating themselves is leading to feelings of loneliness, and being in that position for too long could lead to a number of mental health issues such as helplessness, depression or even suicide. Those suffering from adverse effects from social isolation might not eat as healthy as they might have previously. They may not have the incentive to move around and be active. They may not be sleeping well during the night. These things can affect them physically and can weaken their health.

So what can be done to help these people who are doing the right thing by trying to protect themselves against the virus? What can be done to bring some positive energy into these very trying times we are living in right now? What can public agencies, and even you, do to improve the world of those who are feeling the pangs of this extended period of social isolation? The Delaware County Office for the Aging has instituted two new programs throughout this pandemic to help those who may be feeling lonely. You can help out with one of these programs, using your own phone. Read on!

The New York State Office for the Aging invested in a number of animatronic pets and passed them on to all the various county offices throughout the state to share with those who could benefit from giving these pets a new forever home. The dogs and cats are very lifelike. They make realistic pet sounds and gestures, such as opening and closing their eyes, lifting their paws, opening their mouths and moving their heads. The cats purr and respond to petting and hugging. The dogs will bark to get a person’s attention. These pets were designed to bring comfort, companionship and joy for older adults living in adult or nursing homes, senior housing or in their own homes. They are a wonderful addition to a household for those living alone who could use the friendship of a pet but don’t want the special care required by a live animal. The agency realizes the importance of these pets and has found this program to be increasingly popular. To keep up with the anticipated demand, the agency is looking into purchasing more of these pets to make them available for those who could use a furry friend in their lives.

The pets are a great way to offer people an opportunity to have company inside their home. The next challenge was in trying to offer people an opportunity to have a social connection with someone outside of their home. Although modern technology is a wonderful thing and it can do so much to help those who are isolated from their family and friends, the problem is that not everyone has access to this modern technology.

 For some, a landline telephone may be their only connection to the outside world. The agency established a friendly visiting telephone reassurance program through which staff members are making contacts with vulnerable people on a regular basis. There are people who could benefit from a phone call from someone who can check in on them and give them someone to chat with. A simple phone call may be all it takes to put a smile on the face of someone who is lonely. A call may be all it takes to establish a friendship with another human being. It can make a difference in another person’s life.

I hope you’re still reading because this is how you can bring some sunshine into another person’s day and help make a difference. Do you know of someone who doesn’t get out much right now? It could be a family member, a friend or a neighbor. Do you have a few moments to spare during which you could pick up your phone and call this person? If you know of someone who is alone and could benefit from a kind word now and then, pick up your phone and give them a call. A phone call from you could make their day or, in some cases, it could make their week.

If everyone were to take a few minutes out of their lives each week to make another person’s day special, we could touch so many lives. It wouldn’t take much time on your part to put a smile on another person’s face. Call anyone that you know is alone. Ask how they are doing. Give them a chance to talk to someone. Have a conversation with them. Let them talk about their family, their dog or cat, the birds that come to their bird feeders, or even what they had for breakfast. Take that moment to really listen to them. You may find that you have things in common and can relate to what they are talking about. You may learn something from their words. You may gain an appreciation for this person.

Don’t stop there. Stay in touch with this person on a regular basis. What won’t take much time on your part will mean the world to the person you reach out to. You may even find this friendly connection you’re working on is rewarding to you as well. Like any other act of volunteerism, you will find this to help reduce stress in your life, keep you mentally stimulated and provide you with a new sense of purpose. Something as simple as this is good for your mind and your body. The rewards from this can be twofold. You may find that you end up being glad you started doing this!

Terri Whitney is director of the Delaware County Office for the Aging. ‘Senior Scene’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/news/lifestyles/.

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