Older adults suffering from social isolation and loneliness are at a higher risk of developing physical and mental health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. According to a 2016 study published in Gerontology, up to 29 percent of American adults aged over 70 years report being lonely. Although often overlooked, loneliness is a real and growing epidemic that affects the overall health of older individuals. This is an especially prominent issue for older adults that are either homebound or have decreased mobility, as the only people they may see on a regular basis are home aides or family.
The Harmony Exchange was created to combat exactly this.
As a home visiting program, The Harmony Exchange aims to support aging communities through culturally-guided compansionships. The focus of the program is to serve older adults who are homebound and/or seeking companionship by matching them with volunteers from similar backgrounds. Matches are created in order to mitigate the cultural, social, and lingual barriers that isolate minority aging communities in particular. Matches are also made based on hobbies and interests, location, age, and availability.
A recent match we created was for a 94-year-old woman named Ana. As a woman who only speaks Russian and has decreased mobility, Ana experiences significant barriers to interacting with anyone outside of her home aide and two daughters. Ana’s daughter reached out to The Harmony Exchange in hopes of finding a Russian-speaking volunteer to serve as a friendly face to keep Ana company, go on walks with her, and discuss mutual interests. We paired Ana with Lena, a Russian-speaking working professional who lives in Brooklyn.
Ana and Lena meet every other week and spend most of their time chatting about current events, literature, and their shared Russian background. Ana’s daughter described the pairing as a “match made in heaven” and “the highlight of [Ana’s] week.” More than a scheduled meet-up, Ana and Lena have since developed a meaningful friendship outside of The Harmony Exchange.
The Harmony Exchange hopes to make many more matches like that of Ana and Lena. By pairing volunteers and older adults with shared cultural or social backgrounds, we hope to increase the level of mutual understanding and empathy. The ultimate goal of the program is to combat loneliness and isolation in the aging community at large. If you or someone you know is interested in participating in The Harmony Exchange, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. As a branch of Friendly Visiting under Carter Burden Network, you can read more about what we do at http://www.carterburdennetwork.org/individual-volunteers.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.