PEOPLE HELPING PEOPLE

Donald App can’t see well and suffers from Raynaud’s disease, a disorder that numbs his hands and feet. He recently ended up in rehab after falling over a heater by his bed and breaking his femur in three places.

App, 83, lives alone in Nokomis, but since this summer a Friendly Visitor from Friendship Centers has visited his home every week to lend a hand. Part of the Friendship at Home program, these volunteers work one-on-one with isolated seniors, assisting them in remaining independent.

“It’s very helpful,” says App. “I can’t read, so it’s impossible for me to get my paperwork done.”

App’s daughter, who lives in Maryland, found the Friendship Centers program when she went looking for someone to help her father with his bills.

Michael Downey, 74, began paying weekly visits to App a few months ago. He is App’s second Friendly Visitor.

“We go shopping, pay bills, organize his paperwork,” says Downey. “The time goes quickly.”

Downey also visits another Friendship at Home client every week. His wife, who was already a Friendly Visitor, encouraged him to volunteer.

Friendly Visitors reach out to older adults who may be homebound and depressed, sometimes simply offering warmth and companionship. The volunteers are just one facet of Friendship Centers’ services and programs designed to address loneliness and the need for socialization as we age.

“We can only do so much as we age, and we wind up staying back from life, isolating ourselves or struggling to stay in some kind of active lifestyle,” says Andi Munzer, a volunteer psychotherapist at Friendship Centers’ Sarasota medical clinic.

“Trying to connect with people becomes more and more difficult.”

As a licensed clinical social worker, Munzer says she first tackles the many practical hurdles her patients face. For instance, she recently worked to get a restraining order to keep a patient’s abusive family members out of her house.

“I do whatever is necessary that I can do in a practical sense, as well as attending to their emotional and psychological needs, of which there are a lot.”

Loneliness affects you physiologically, as well as emotionally, says Munzer, who counsels uninsured and underinsured patients every Monday at the clinic.

“There’s so much loss when you get old. Not just people dying, but you lose abilities and energy. Coping with things that are inevitable is the key to growing older with quality of life.”