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Local commentary

Forever friends

Leslie Bek

I was told at a young age that you cannot have enough friends. As I age, I often roll that sentiment around in my head and think, how true. During school years, you are tossed into a classroom loaded with potential pals. Extracurricular activities began to sort the whole into smaller groups. You may even have taken on an identity with your peers.

Leaving the familiarity of those days and graduating into something else meant leaving some friends behind for a new unknown. A career and workplace offered another mix of potential friends. Moving from home to a new place, marriage, and parenthood all combined to strain old friendships while defining new ones.

Fast forward to retirement and beyond. You no longer drive, and your independence is slipping away. You need to rely on others to get you from here to there. Your children and grandchildren live away, yet you have decided to stay where you have made a home. Your spouse has passed as have many of the friends you shared as a couple. You worry about things you cannot control and have genuine fears about your future.

It is harder to make friends than it used to be. Isolation and loneliness are not good friends.

This storyline could have many different twists and turns. The common thread is the presence or absence of friendships. Making friends at any age can be a struggle.

Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly (LBFE), Upper Michigan has facilitated friendship connections to older folks in Keweenaw and Houghton counties for over forty years and over ten years in Baraga, Ontonagon, and Marquette counties. Let me introduce you to the signature program of LBFE, Friendly Visiting.

If you are over 60 years old and consider yourself isolated, and disconnected from your community or others as you once were, then the Friendly Visiting program may be right for you.

Staff members make a home visit and get to know you and explain how participating in LBFE programming can make a positive impact in your life. If it is determined that social isolation is a factor, then the friendship wheels are set in motion.

LBFE identifies volunteers who are interested in making new friends with their elderly neighbors. Training and orientation sessions are held so each volunteer is capable and comfortable in their visiting role. Matches are made based on similar interests. Each older person in the Friendly Visiting program is referred to as a Forever Friend. Exactly that, we are their friend forever.

Each friendship takes on a meaning as unique as the pairing. Connecting at least twice a month face-to-face and through a telephone call is all it takes. Some may go out for a ride, out for a cup of coffee, or browse in a shop. Quiet visits at home reminiscing over photo albums or chatting about a book or movie can start an endearing conversation.

For all the social science that supports the positive impact of friendship, there is additional research that suggests chronic loneliness can increase the risk of developing dementia by approximately 50% in older adults. Having a friend is a no charge prescription that the LBFE Friendly Visiting program provides.

Contact us if you are aware of someone who is interested in becoming an LBFE Forever Friend. Join us as a Friendly Visiting volunteer, you will be changing two lives at the same time.

Potential Call Outs

Each of us can start now, in our own lives, by strengthening our connections and relationships.

Lacking social connection is as dangerous as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

Chronic loneliness & social isolation can increase the risk of developing dementia by approximately 50% in older adults

EDITORS NOTE: Leslie Bek is program manager of the LBFE Upper Michigan chapter in Marquette County. Contact leslie.bek@littlebrothers.org; 906-273-2575. LBFE Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw, Ontonagon Counties Hancock Administration office 906-482-6944. houghton.littlebrothers.org.

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