Wallingford Senior Center starts friendly call program to combat ‘social isolation’

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WALLINGFORD — The town’s Senior Center has started an outreach program to help seniors who feel isolated. 

The “Friendly Telephone Call Program” allows seniors who are feeling lonely to call a volunteer once a week to talk for about 10 minutes. 

Program coordinator Celeste Yanni said many seniors who can’t drive and live alone are not able to regularly interact with others, putting them at risk for social isolation, which is defined as a “complete or near complete lack of contact between an individual and society.”

“People who are homebound and can’t get out of their houses are socially isolated,” said Yanni, who worked as a homecare and hospice nurse for several years. “...they’re basically in their houses day in and day out ...and they’re basically sitting there and could use some stimulation.”

About 8 percent of seniors are considered socially isolated nationally, Yannie said, which translates to about 560 of the approximately 7,000 seniors living in Wallingford.

 Yanni said she hopes to assemble a team of senior volunteers. Seniors who use the program will be able to call the same one each week, hopefully developing a friendship. Volunteers will be guided by a list of prepared questions on subjects such as life memories and life lessons. 

“The big thing we want to get across is that, number one, we’re not there to pry, and number two, we’re really not there to solve problems. This is meant to be a social interaction,” Yanni said.

Yanni, who lives on Curtis Avenue, holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing and master’s degree in nursing education from Columbia University and a PhD in sociology from Yale University. 

The weekly call will hopefully give seniors something to look forward to and let them know someone cares, said Bill Viola, director of the Wallingford Senior Center.

Growing research indicates that social isolation among seniors correlates with negative health consequences like depression and high-blood pressure. Feelings of loneliness have also been linked to poor cognitive performance and quicker cognitive decline in research conducted by Dr. John Cacioppo, a neuroscientist and psychologist at the University of Chicago. 

“It basically is the equivalent of smoking like a pack of cigarettes a day in terms of the impact on the individual’s health,” Yanni said.  

Yanni, who serves on the town’s Committee on Aging, presented the idea for the call program to the committee as a way to reach seniors who are no longer able to get to the Senior Center, 238 Washington St. The Committee on Aging is essentially the board of directors for the Senior Center, Yanni said. 

“One of the new long-term goals for the Committee on Aging is to start to look at ways that we can reach that population” that can no longer get to the Senior Center, Yanni said.

Viola said there aren’t many other formal programs like this in the area. 

To volunteer, call Yanni at 203-537-0297.


Twitter: @MatthewZabierek

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