Rita LaForce, 81, said she was lonely before meeting her friend Austen Creger, 68.
“Although I have good friends, I don’t have many,” said LaForce, a San Francisco resident. “I was feeling really shut in.”
LaForce and Creger are part of a program called Social Call run by the nonprofit Front Porch.
The program connects adults 60 and older with volunteers 18 and older for a weekly 30-minute phone or video call. The program’s mission: to inspire and build community by cultivating meaningful relationships and experiences.
LaForce and Creger have spoken weekly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic 3 years ago. Both expressed how important their interactions have been during a time of increased isolation.
“I can’t tell you what Austen has done for me,” said LaForce. “She encourages my creativity. I read my poems to her; share my projects. I am much more outgoing. Austen has made me want to make a real contribution to the world.”
Creger feels the same way.
“It’s so inspiring talking with a woman who is 81,” said Creger. “She never ceases to amaze me. We talk about her past, present, and future, and it’s incredible to see the world through someone else’s perspective.”
LaForce and Creger are 2 of 450 people in Northern California, and more than 1,100 nationwide, who participate in Social Call. A $95,000 grant from a Kaiser Permanente fund at the East Bay Community Foundation supports Front Porch and its programs such as Social Call.
“Supporting and improving the mental health of our members and the communities we serve is fundamental to Kaiser Permanente’s mission. Fostering connections and friendships to reduce social isolation is integral to that,” said Yvette Radford, Kaiser Permanente Northern California vice president of External and Community Affairs. “We are proud to support Front Porch and the work they are doing to connect older adults to compassionate, caring volunteers.”
Matches of a lifetime
Front Porch makes the matches with a high level of detail, including shared interests, values, and needs. The matches are also diverse, with 70% being intergenerational and 30% peer to peer.
“The beauty of the relationship is that both people in the match are offered the chance to feel seen and heard,” said Katie Wade, senior director of Social Call. “It builds lifelong friendships and increases vitality.”
Reducing isolation, improving mental health
Loneliness and isolation among older adults can have serious health effects.
Drew Maygren, MD, geriatric psychiatrist for Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said isolation and loneliness are correlated to worsening anxiety and depression, and can lead to cognitive decline, all of which results in a reduction in quality of life.
For many older adults this is a reality. According to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), nearly 25% of adults aged 65 and older are socially isolated.
Front Porch is trying to improve this through real connection, something Dr. Maygren said is effective at reducing the feeling of isolation.
“When an older adult can interact with someone on a consistent basis who is compassionate, it can help improve their mood, how they view themselves, and their quality of life,” he said.
Front Porch conducted a survey with program participants who reported a 91% increase in social connection and an 88% decrease in loneliness.
Supporting creativity in older adults
The Kaiser Permanente Northern California grant from the East Bay Community Fund also supports Front Porch’s Well Connected program.
Well Connected offers phone and online activities that build community through group conversations, games, and activities. The topics are a range including meditation, zoology, and music.
“Our programs are a vehicle to allow people to express who they really are,” said Mary Gregory, giving manager for Front Porch. “As an older adult, it can be easy to get left behind, and our programs give them the opportunity to rekindle who they are.”
Learn about how to become a volunteer of Front Porch’s Social Call.
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