Millions of older Americans are growing old all alone. As Baby Boomers age, and start losing loved ones, loneliness can take its toll.
The issue is becoming such a concern some national organizations are stepping in.
“This was the one thing I said when I retire, I want to do Meals on Wheels,” says volunteer Donna Reuss.
Reuss has been volunteering for the organization Meals on Wheels for six years. She not only brings seniors a free meal, but she’s often the only person they really interact with for weeks at a time.
“One of the things that really surprised me when I first started this was how many seniors live alone,” Reuss says.
Loneliness can have a big impact on their health. Research shows that lacking social connections can be as harmful to someone’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
“It's a much bigger problem I think than people realize,” says Mary Lee Anderson, with Senior Services of Alexandria.
Anderson’s nonprofit organization helps deliver food for Meals on Wheels. She’s helping with a new pilot project that lets volunteers delivering meals use a cell phone app to report any changes in behavior or concerns they notice while visiting with a senior.
“It lets our volunteers, if they notice a problem, report it right on their phone,” she explains. “That information is sent back to us at the office and we can then contact the individual who is responsible, a family member or their city social worker if they don't have a close family member.”
The pilot program is currently being tested in 10 cities across the country, and it’s expected to expand to another 50 cities early next year.