Manhattan nonprofit works to keep seniors connected during social distancing

Happy senior mother and adult daughter enjoying dramatic view
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An Upper West Side-based nonprofit is doing everything they can to keep providing services for seniors who may be suffering from loneliness or social isolation.

Volunteers from DOROT have been trying to protect seniors from the dangers of social isolation since 1976, long before the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus was keeping people indoors, but the group has had to modify their services in response to the illness, Executive Director Mark Meridy said.

Whereas volunteers usually visit a senior in person, running errands for them or just having friendly conversations, they now will have to settle for talking on the phone or leaving groceries or prescriptions at the door.

Meridy thinks that social distancing is essential to preventing the spread of the illness, especially among the elderly, but does not want to give up the help DOROT’s volunteers offer because of the effects of seniors feeling alone, he said.

“[social isolation] is a serious problem already,” Meridy said.

Social isolation and loneliness among seniors can lead to higher blood pressure, depression and an earlier onset of dementia, making regular visits and conversations important for seniors, Meridy said. He does not want coronavirus to keep his volunteers from engaging with seniors in need.

The as many as 6,000 volunteers that serve New York City and Westchester county each year have replaced cancelled in-person programming with phone or video chat services, which are intended to be limited to 12 participants or less to ensure that none of the participants feel ignored.

Seniors who would like to participate in DOROT’s programming, even if they were not involved before coronavirus led many people to stay home, can visit the nonprofit’s website for more information, Meridy said.