By: Gordon Williams, Northwest Region Volunteer
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) speaks to the public, it is usually to warn of a disease that threatens us. A recent CDC warning, however, focuses on a different sort of issue: the public health aspects of social isolation among seniors.
“Loneliness and social isolation among older adults are serious public health risks affecting a significant number of people in the United States," says the CDC.
The CDC cites a report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine which says that “one-third of adults 65 and older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated.”
If that sounds like you or someone you know, there are agencies to turn to for help, including: Area Agencies on Aging, National Council on Aging, National Institute on Aging. All these agencies and more exist to deal with growing old in 21st Century America.
But there is another solution to isolation. Pick an agency that does good in your community and volunteer to be a part of it. It could be your place of worship or one of the scouting organizations. Or it could be the American Red Cross, which aids disaster victims the world over.
On a personal note, I am one of the 90 percent of Red Cross workers who is a volunteer. As a Red Cross volunteer, I help do good in my community. I have the satisfaction of having helped others in times of crisis. I avoid isolation by being part of a group of caring, committed people.
If you wonder whether you suffer from isolation, the CDC offers a definition.
“Loneliness,” says the CDC, “is feeling alone, disconnected from others. It is a feeling you do not have meaningful or close relationships or a sense of belonging. It reflects the difference between a person’s actual and desired level of connection. This means that even a person with a lot of friends can feel lonely.”
If you question how severely being alone can harm you, the CDC warns that, “Social isolation and loneliness have been linked to increased risk for heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression and anxiety, addiction, suicidality and self-harm, dementia and earlier death.”
You can get as much out of volunteering for the Red Cross as you put into it. Whatever your interests and whatever your background, there is a Red Cross activity that should be just right for you. Don’t worry if you lack the skills or training. Every role that volunteers play in the Red Cross begins with lots of training. I began as a disaster responder in New York, bringing relief to victims of such disasters as fires, floods, winter storms and more.
If disaster response doesn’t appeal to you, you can assist at Red Cross blood drives or teach disaster preparedness to schools and other groups. If you have the skills, you can teach first aid or swimming. Many doctors and nurses serve the Red Cross when they retire from active practice. The Red Cross serves the military in a dozen ways through its Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program.
One important thing to know about volunteering for the Red Cross is that you can do a job that takes you into the field, but you can also contribute by working from home. Some volunteers have traveled to disaster sites throughout the continental U.S. and in Guam, Maui and Mexico. But some responders were able to do their jobs virtually, via computer and phone, while at home.
To make its case, the Red Cross offers 10 reasons why one should become a volunteer. Among them:
- Volunteering is a great way to meet people.
- Volunteering can increase self-confidence.
- Volunteering can help you stay physically healthy.
- Volunteering can be fun and fulfilling.
- Volunteering can bring meaning and purpose
- Volunteering can help you learn new skills
Finally, says the Red Cross, “Volunteering has a happiness effect. Helping people, making new friends. How can you not be happy?”
To learn more about volunteer opportunities and start the process to become a Red Cross volunteer, click here.