The Answer to Loneliness: Community

Pauline discusses a new project with friends in the Senior Center knitting group.

Getting older has its challenges—but Goddard Riverside’s older adult programs are here to help our community stay active, engaged and happy.

One of those challenges is loneliness. New research suggests it isn’t just a source of emotional distress for older adults; it can actually pose a threat to their health. As The New York Times reported in late December, scientists have found that loneliness is associated “with higher blood pressure, with nursing home admissions, with risky health behaviors like inactivity and smoking, and with dementia.” It’s also linked to higher mortality rates and increased difficulty with the activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing and dressing.

Combating loneliness is something Goddard Riverside’s older adult programs—Phelps House, Home-Delivered Meals, the Senior Center, and the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC)—take seriously.

“We’re a community,” says Senior Center director Marcia Mason. “If someone usually comes to the Center, but they stop showing up, we’ll call them to see how they’re doing. They know we’ll miss them if they aren’t around.”

Often, Senior Center members themselves will ask her to check on someone, Mason adds: “They’ll say, ‘Why didn’t this person come to lunch? How come they didn’t show up for tai chi when they always come to tai chi?'”

When community members are no longer able to come to lunch due to mobility challenges, the Home-Delivered Meals program brings lunch to them. Meal-delivery programs have been shown to reduce feelings of isolation; a 2015 study at Brown University, for example, found older adults who received the service reported being less lonely. Our program, which serves more than 500 Upper West Siders a day, recently added a case manager to ensure recipients were connecting with other public benefits to help them age healthily and happily at home.

Our two residential programs, Phelps House and the NORC, provide social activities ranging from shopping to Broadway shows to classes and discussion groups.

NORC resident Helen Homek loves the art classes, movies and organized outings. She especially appreciates being able to take part in group activities right on her block.

“You don’t have to travel,” she says. “It’s all right here!”

Pauline, who asked us to use her first name only, began coming to the Senior Center after she stopped working. “When I first retired I didn’t know what to do with myself,” she says.

A neighbor suggested she check out the Senior Center. “At first I came one day a week,” she says; “then two, then three, then four.”

Over the years Pauline has built a solid community at Goddard Riverside —the kind of social network that provides comfort during hard times and makes good times even better. She enjoys art classes and exercise at the Senior Center. She has also become a dedicated volunteer at Goddard Riverside events, such as the annual Book Fair, where she helps to run the Arts and Crafts table.

“I’m very happy here because the people are nice,” she says. “I’m lucky to have this place.”