New Call-In Program Welcomes Veterans

Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins September 15, 2014 20:01

What’s wrong with feeling lonely?  Though some older adults are happy living alone, experts say that for many, loneliness can lead to health problems such as depression, cognitive decline and even premature death.

“One recent study found that 44 percent of veterans were lonely at least some of the time, and 10 percent were lonely most of the time,” says Christine Gould, a clinical psychologist with the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

Older veterans who are disabled, unable to drive or living far from the nearest senior center may find it especially hard to connect with others, she says. And as peers pass away, they may be left with few friends with similar interests.

The VA is addressing the issue in a pilot project for veterans – one in which only a telephone is required. Veterans can now connect with other vets and non-vets through a call-in program operated by Senior Center Without Walls, a program of Episcopal Senior Communities.

In partnering with the VA, the Oakland-based nonprofit has expanded its existing free senior call-in program by adding activities and chat groups for veterans.

The new program – Recreation, Education and Socialization for Older Learning Veterans, RESOLV – focuses on foothill residents because of the social isolation inherent in these rural areas. But it is open to all vets 65 and older, Gould says.

Veterans who want to participate must first call Gould to register (650-493-5000, press 1 for extension, then 1 for Palo Alto, then 68899).

Once registered, callers dial a toll-free number and enter a two-digit code to join group discussions and activities. A schedule of classes and activities is mailed in advance, and groups range in size from two to two dozen, led by a trained volunteer moderator.

Included are conversation groups (sports, technology, men’s issues), games (bingo, trivia), support groups (chronic pain, relaxation, low vision), armchair travel and presentations on health, history and much more.

“If someone is shy and kind of nervous, they may think, ‘What would I talk about?’ ” Gould says. “But there will always be prepared topics … the veterans can just sit and listen, and don’t have to participate more than they want to.”

To gauge the program’s success, she will interview callers by phone before, during and after their first six months of participation.

“We’re looking at it on an individual level, trying to see if it improves mood and decreases loneliness and depression,” Gould says. “Our hope is that by helping people connect over the telephone, they may be able to re-create a sense of community.”

To learn more about Senior Center Without Walls activities for non-veterans, call (877) 797-7299.

Copyright © 2014 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins September 15, 2014 20:01
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