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Programs aim to help elderly stay healthy, connected

Date published: 1/13/2008



Once a week, 20-year-old Loy Campbell drives from her apartment near the University of Mary Washington to visit for an hour with Mae Rose at a Fredericksburg senior apartment complex.

A volunteer with the local Senior Visitors Program, Campbell has always been very close to her grandparents and is trying to decide on a career that may include working with the elderly.

"It's not a really big time commitment," Campbell said about her weekly visits with Rose, who is blind.

For Rose, the visits help her feel less alone on the days her family doesn't have time to stop by or call.

"She brightens up my week," Rose said about Campbell. "I don't have many visitors, and I can't get out much."

The visitor program, which links seniors with a volunteer, is largely geared toward those who suffer from isolation and depression, common problems for all age groups but especially the homebound elderly.

Coordinator Teresa Bowers said at least 75 percent of the seniors referred to the program have symptoms of depression.

The crux of the program, Bowers said, is to remind area seniors that "they're not alone."

The program is one of many local efforts to help residents age 65 and older with everything from health care to financial planning to companionship.

Six senior centers across the region host hot meals and activities for area residents, providing transportation to and from the sites and weekly grocery shopping trips if needed.

The Rappahannock Area Agency on Aging sponsors a telephone reassurance program as a way to keep in touch with a senior who might just need to hear a friendly voice now and then.

Programs at local library branches and the Rappahannock Area YMCA designed especially for older adults focus on such issues as proper nutrition and water-based exercise that's gentle on arthritic joints. A local support group addresses the needs of caregivers who look after loved ones at home.

These types of local programs are the linchpin in efforts to address depression and suicide among the elderly, said Jerry Reed, executive director of the national advocacy group Suicide Prevention Action Network.

"There are a lot of things we can be doing in the community and the doctor's office to address elderly suicide," Reed said. "We just have to speak loudly that health is health, whether you're 1 or 100."

Pat Holland, senior-services coordinator for the Rappahannock Area Agency on Aging, said efforts to remind seniors of their value are especially important in today's fast-paced world.

"What we hear a lot is, 'My kids are busy,' and those kids can be 60 years old," Holland said. "Everybody's got families. There isn't a lot of time to go around."

To learn more about local support programs or to volunteer to help a senior, contact: Rappahannock Area Agency on Aging: 540/371-3375 or 800/262-4012 Mental Health America: 540/371-2704 or 800/684-6423. The group needs volunteers and financial support for its Senior Visitors Program and other efforts.