Senior Solutions: Volunteer Visitor programs help overcome loneliness

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Winters in Vermont can be long and dreary for those who have no transportation and few friends or relatives nearby. Severe loneliness often leads to depression and self neglect. That can result in physical manifestations of chronic illness. It also increases personal and government spending on hospital stays. We have found that having a friendly person who cares about our well-being to be the best medicine!

Our core of visitors at Senior Solutions is growing every day. As fast as we are gaining volunteers the demand is also getting bigger. Our Senior Companions, Friendly Visitors and the Vet to Vet programs have become very important to aging Vermonters who feel isolated and unable to get out and interact with their communities. The core group of Vet to Vet Visitors that started at the Brattleboro American Legion is now spreading into Chester, Ludlow, Londonderry, and even into White River Junction/Upper Valley.

Visitors improve the quality of life for so many lonely Vermonters. So if you are a veteran or someone with a few hours a week that you would like to use to spend with a person who will really appreciate your company, please call our HelpLine at 802-885-2669 and ask to have our volunteer coordinator call you. The bottom line is: If you want to help, we will find a Visitor Program place for you where you will have the great satisfaction of being useful and form new friendships.

We are developing new training and support modules for our volunteers to help them relate to and deal with various stages of aging. Sometimes they spend time with older Vermonters who are developing early signs of dementia or early onset Alzheimer's. It is basic education that we all should have considering the increasing age of our population.

Following that theme, Senior Solutions is participating in the Tri-State ECHO-D project which is investigating case studies of various dementia issues. There are three states involved: Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Within each of those states there are three communities who have been invited to participate. We are taking part in the program with the Wilmington community team. By studying actual challenges faced by real people we are able to consider the various potential solutions and resources available to the patient, family members, medical caregivers, and communities involved. We also discuss systemic improvements on a cultural level. We are learning ways to support caregivers. The goal is to be better able to meet the needs of dementia and Alzheimer's patients and their families and make our communities better educated on the subject.

The Vermont Alzheimer's Association can provide support, education, training and other resources for people dealing with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Call them at 800-272-3900. Senior Solutions can help by providing Caregiver Respite grants to family caregivers and by connecting them to additional wellness benefits. Good nutrition, exercise, and better health in general is important to both the patient and the caregiver.

Please check our website at www.seniorsolutionsvt.org for the many programs and benefits we can help Vermonters over 60 access to keep them healthier and more active. From aqua aerobics to Tai Chi Teacher Training opportunities and 3SquaresVt application assistance we are here in Windham and Windsor Counties to serve you. Call 802-885-2669 to reach our HelpLine.

Joann Erenhouse, Esq., is the community relations director for Senior Solutions, the federally-designated Area Agency on Aging serving Southeastern Vermont since 1973. Senior Solutions provides information and assistance and administers a variety of programs for older adults and people with disabilities. Call 802-885-2669 or visit www.SeniorSolutionsVT.org.

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