Department of Aging launches program to combat isolation of senior New Yorkers during COVID-19

Millennial girl talk on video call with mature mother
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New York City’s Department for the Aging (DFTA) launched a new campaign focused on limiting social isolation among older New Yorkers while the City continues to shelter in place during reopening.

Studies show that social isolation can lead to health problems including depression and heart disease, and older New Yorkers are not only at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19, but also are at increased risk of having very little contact with others and becoming socially isolated.

The campaign launched this month and will be airing on local radio airwaves and on social media. As a part of the campaign, DFTA released a radio public service announcement from Broadway’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda asks “Can you imagine what isolation feels like to an older New Yorker living alone? You can do something about it in 10 minutes…a 10 minute phone call to an older New Yorker can work wonders.” Miranda also asks New Yorkers to consider volunteering for DFTA’s Friendly Visiting Program, an initiative that matches volunteers with older adults and is designed to build friendships and limit social isolation.

DFTA’s program currently has nearly 1,000 volunteers who are checking in on older New Yorkers. Under normal circumstances, program volunteers visit older adults in person, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers have been connecting with older adults by phone and video calls.

“Keeping older New Yorkers connected to others is crucial right now. Isolation among older New Yorkers is a serious issue and it can affect their health and wellbeing. And in this current landscape, it is affecting older New Yorkers more than ever,” said Department for the Aging Commissioner Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez. “I want to thank Lin-Manuel Miranda, a native and true New Yorker, for helping us spotlight this important issue. By lending his voice to this campaign, he is providing a voice for the thousands of older New Yorkers who are facing social isolation.”

“Our health is tied to our relationships, and during this COVID-19 pandemic many of our City’s seniors have had to stay apart physically from their families, friends and loved ones,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “This campaign will contribute significantly to the mental health and wellbeing of the elderly in our communities.”

DFTA is also shifting their programming at senior centers online so those at home can enjoy them. This includes fitness, workshops, art classes and other activities offered on Zoom and other virtual platforms.

“I thank the Department for the Aging for shining a spotlight on the significant challenges of social isolation, its mental health impact, and concrete ways we can all help combat it. I join them in asking all New Yorkers to do our part and reach out to an older neighbor, friend or relative. Pick up the phone and make a difference in someone’s life,” said Susan Herman, Director of the Mayor’s Office of ThriveNYC.

Those who wish to take part in the Friendly Visiting program can call DFTA’s Aging Connect at 212-AGING-NYC (212-244-6469).