The AARP Foundation says keys to the prevention of social isolation involve efforts to stay or get socially active, nurture relationships, and find and use local resources. Experts say that adequate transportation, support groups and programs that can help keep minds and bodies sharp also support a purpose-driven life.
Here are three steps older Western New Yorkers can take to prevent or address social isolation.
"One of the biggest things we have found – and it's pretty much the same across the country as in our community – is that transportation is one of the biggest issues in getting people out," said Pamela Krawczyk, director of the Amherst Center for Senior Services.
The center shares the same building with the nonprofit Amherst Senior Transportation Services, which for a suggested $3 donation will drive those 55 and older, who are able to get on and off one of their vans with limited assistance, to shop, visit the senior center or go to a medical appointment. The center operates from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays. If offers about 20,000 rides a year, Executive Director Mike Gibbons said – with room for more. Call 636-3075 for a ride or more information.
Rural Transit serves seniors, those who are disabled and those who have low- to moderate incomes in 16 towns in southern and eastern Erie County. It, too, asks $3 per ride, with service available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays to take residents to senior centers, medical appointments, stores and pharmacies, colleges, adult day care, hair salons and more. Call 549-5098 in Brandt, Collins, Evans and North Collins; 592-0088 in Concord, Holland and Sardina; 662-8378 in Aurora, Boston, Eden, Elma, Marilla, Orchard Park and Wales; and 565-3323 in Clarence and Newstead. The group also seeks volunteers to help with rides.
Ride hailing services Uber and Lyft also will ramp up across the region in the next few months after lawmakers approved their use in the new state budget.
Registration is open for the spring semester of University Express, a series of academic classes available free to Western New Yorkers 55 and older.
Lively, hourlong classes throughout Erie County – many of them at senior centers – include lively discussions on more than 60 topics.
"We have really wonderful history programs," said Patricia Dowling, RSVP director with the Erie County Department of Social Services, which oversees the program.
The program, which runs through Aug. 9, has expanded this year to more sites, including the City of Tonawanda Library, Dowling said. It also has expanded from 100 to 150 classes. Subjects will include Cuba, immigration, local history, early Buffalo music and entertainment, literature, health and wellness, and Buffalo weather.
BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, Excelsior Orthopaedics, and Wegmans also underwrite the program costs. Call 858-7548 if you'd like to become an RSVP volunteer or want to receive a schedule of University Express classes.
"A lot of our University Express participants say they had never set foot in a senior center before and had this idea of what it would be like: people sitting around playing cards," Dowling said. "Then they walk in and there's Pilates and camera club going on and realize, 'This is OK.'"
WRITE A MANUSCRIPT
Linda Chalmer Zemel teaches media writing at SUNY Buffalo State. She's written freelance stories and op-ed pieces for The Buffalo News, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle and other regional publications. She's at work on her second novel.
Zemel, who turned 72 last month, also has spent the last two years enjoying a new pursuit: teaching others how to write their memoirs.
She has written a book, "There Must Be 50 Ways to Write Your Memoir," available for $2.99 at amazon.com.
She also teaches workshops in senior living residences, senior centers and other settings, and works one-on-one with clients.
“I’m there to offer a menu of different ways to look at your life and to organize memories that you’ve got into a coherent legacy that you can leave behind that your family and your friends can enjoy,” she said.
One mistake aspiring memoirists make: thinking they need to write a full autobiography. “That’s not at all what a memoir needs to be,” Zemel said. Ann Morrow Lindbergh wrote about different seashells and the memory they evoked in “Gift from the Sea.” Oprah Winfrey looks to organize her upcoming memoirs around recipes. Others have framed their stories – long and short – about hobbies, special holidays and favorite vacations.
“Writing isn’t necessarily a solitary occupation – or at least it doesn’t have to be,” Zemel said. “You need to interact with a number of people if you’re doing a story, or series of short pieces, in your memoir. You want to contact them and meet them personally if you can. You build in some time to not only connect but reconnect.”
You also leave a lasting gift for loved ones.
“In a memoir, you find a place where you can put down some of the memories you have, and what you’ve learned from them, in the hope other people might read it and say, ‘I never thought about it that way,’ or ‘I didn’t realize that’s what can happen.’ They can benefit from your experiences.’”
Reach out to Zemel at her website, writethatmemoir.com.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon