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Breaking Through the Wall of Loneliness with a ‘Friendly Voice’

Families all across America with older relatives suffering from loneliness and social isolation have a new best friend: AARP’s Friendly Voice Program, an innovative idea whose time has come in the form of relief and companionship, as result of the coronavirus pandemic.

With time on their hands and compassion in their hearts, Friendly Voice volunteers call individuals who have signed up to receive a call from selfless men and women committed to giving back to those who will benefit from hearing a friendly, caring voice to brighten up their days. And it is working. As of October 2020: 

·         More than 275 trained men and women are making calls

·         4,100 people have signed up to receive these friendly calls

·         Volunteers have engaged in more than 5,000 conversations

The Best Solution is Often in Front of You

AARP’s Michael Hedges recalls one Georgia volunteer. As a recent retiree, she, too, was isolated at home and looking for ways to give back to others. “I found the Friendly Voice call center,” Barbara says. “I love to talk, so it seemed ideal.” What did she talk about?

Friendly Voice volunteers try not focus on COVID-19 when there are so many other things to talk about. Typically, it is more about the other person’s life, family and their concerns. Barbara connects with five people a day roughly three days a week.

Jerry, a Florida volunteer, joined the program in March. He has reached as many as 50 people a week for several months. Understandably, not every call is upbeat. “The hope is they stay with the program. A series of calls may lift their spirits,” Jerry says.

One advantage of speaking to volunteers, as opposed to someone they know, is they open up more and speak from the heart without reluctance to expressing their true feelings.

Friendly Voice volunteers say the way to avoid dependence on a particular caller is to not make repeat visits with the same person.

Isolation Doesn’t Discriminate 

While even before the pandemic, millions of older adults struggled with isolation, loneliness, and a lack of regular companionship, according to a University of Michigan-AARP poll of adults between the ages of 50 and 80.

In 2019, AARP’s Sarah Elizabeth Adler wrote, “The results showed 1 in 3 adults say they lack regular companionship, and 1 in 4 say they feel isolated from other people at least some of the time.” This survey was part of the National Poll on Healthy Aging sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s academic medical center. 

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, women were more likely than men to report feeling a lack of companionship (36 percent versus 31 percent). Older adults, who reported being socially active every day or several times a week, were less likely to report a lack of companionship or feeling isolated.

“We know that social isolation and loneliness are as bad for our health as obesity and smoking,” says Alison Bryant, AARP senior vice president of research. “AARP’s own research shows that older adults who are unpaid caregivers are low-income or identify as LGBT and are at an increased risk for chronic loneliness.”

Reach Out for Someone You Care About

Sadness is a personal feeling. Life can get especially stressful regardless of age. Hearing a calming and friendly voice when you or someone you know is facing challenging times is truly good for the mind, body and soul.

If you would like to help someone who needs some attention, contact AARP Friendly Voice at 1-888-281-0145. In Spanish, call 1-888-497-4108. A volunteer will call you back using this number: 1-888-281-0145. The caller will say “800 Service.”

AARP requests that you make note of the number so you will recognize it when a volunteer calls. If they miss you they will leave a voicemail.

Learn more about Community Connections and Friendly Voices at www.aarp.org/benefits-discounts/all/aarp-community-connections/.

If you want to volunteer and become a Friendly Voice, you can get involved HERE.

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