Reconnecting isolated seniors with the outside world

February 26, 2024

When 99 year old Oi Mei first met Winnie, she finally had someone with whom she could share stories in her native tongue. As a fellow Cantonese speaker who was born in Hong Kong, Winnie was able to appreciate and resonate with Oi Mei’s experiences in a special way. They met just three months ago and they have already formed a bond that has enriched each of their lives.

Winnie volunteers with CatholicCare’s Aged Care Volunteers Visitors Scheme, where volunteers spend time developing friendships, having a chat and
sharing a cuppa. The one-on-one visiting scheme matches volunteers from the local community with seniors who are socially isolated and in need of companionship.

Research shows older Australians are more likely to experience social isolation and loneliness than any other demographic. Add language and cultural barriers to the mix, and that feeling of segregation from society can become all consuming.

Winnie visits Oi Mei once a fortnight and they chat about everything – from food to religion to her fellow residents at the nursing home! “It doesn’t have to always be something serious,” Winnie said. “It’s all about having the company of another person and having someone to share stories with.”

Winnie recalls the moment that Oi Mei learnt she could speak Cantonese with her. “She’d never had a visitor who could speak to her in her native tongue.
She was so happy.”

For Winnie, the close connection she has formed with Oi Mei has given her greater empathy.

“It is easy to focus on the stress and be overwhelmed in our own lives, that we forget the experiences of others,” Winnie says. “I am inspired to keep giving back to the community. One day we will all be in aged care or something similar and we would want someone to invest their time into us.”

Another of our volunteers Barbara, agrees that volunteering has increased her empathy. “I’ve noticed how easy it is to become selfish, especially when you are newly retired and can do whatever you want with your time. It’s good to do something like this to remind me that there are people who don’t enjoy the same freedom I do.”

Barbara has been visiting Dawn in her nursing home since 2018 and has witnessed the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on Dawn’s physical and emotional wellbeing. “During the lockdowns, Dawn was restricted to her room, and she lost her ability to walk. After COVID she needed a wheelchair to get her out and about, but she is slowly regaining her ability to walk.” 

Barbara says that Dawn always seems genuinely pleased to see her and they like to chat about films. “She is very bright and will often research the movies I have seen.”

Professor Susan Kurrle, a geriatrician and ageing expert at Sydney University, says COVID-19 lockdowns led to huge numbers of older people becoming socially isolated, which then led to intense feelings of loneliness.

Slowly but surely, the Aged Care Volunteers Visitors Scheme is reconnecting seniors with the outside world, and it is an enriching experience for all involved.

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