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Should You Adopt an 80-Year-Old?

Five programs that provide assistance for struggling older adults


Everyone of a certain age remembers Sally Struthers’ Save the Children TV commercials, encouraging viewers to improve the life of an impoverished child in a developing nation by sponsoring him or her for the price of a cup of coffee a day. Many organizations still let people sponsor underprivileged children. But if you’d rather sponsor a struggling older adult with limited resources, there are a number of programs available.

“Lots of older adults are barely making ends meet,” says Homa Rostami, board member of the California-based Adopt an Elder Foundation. “They fought in wars and are kind of forgotten. They might just need a [little] more a month.”

Programs for older adults in need can provide tangible results. If you’re hoping to make a difference in the lives of adults across the country or around the world, consider programs like these:

Unbound

This Kansas-based nonprofit can pair you with a 60-plus adult needing assistance who lives in a developing nation in Asia, Africa or Latin America, to help him or her age with dignity. Many older adults spent decades performing manual labor. Now, their health is declining, their mobility is limited and they may not have many social services available to them. Sponsors donate $36 per month, which provides older adults with food, medical care, support groups and recreational activities. Donors receive photos of, and letters from, their beneficiaries. More than half of donors are over 50.

“We often hear that our elders in the developing world and their sponsors are able to bond over similar challenges, such as illness, losing a spouse of other family member or children moving away,” says Andrew Kling, Unbound’s community outreach director. “Both the families we serve and our sponsors frequently tell us that the letters and photos they receive become cherished possessions.”

The program serves more than 31,000 elders from 18 countries and has allowed people to sponsor older adults since 1984.

Adopt an Elder

It isn’t safe for every older adult to continue living independently, but some can’t afford to move to assisted-living facilities. This nonprofit provides financial aid to older adults in Northern California, supplementing their incomes by $350 per month so they can live in facilities providing the appropriate level of care. This provides a needed financial boost since many people come up a few hundred dollars short of what they would need to stay in assisted living facilities.

Many are introduced to the program by their doctors or social workers if the professional is concerned that the older adult is no longer able to safely live alone. (The program itself isn’t involved with moving people directly into facilities.)

Donors typically provide $25 per month to the program. You won’t be paired with one individual, but you can interact with beneficiaries by distributing holiday gifts with volunteers in December. Beneficiaries appreciate the help they receive, which allows them to enter assisted-living communities for life.

“They always talk about the social engagement, having someone to talk to,” Rostami says. “They say, ‘It’s nice that I’m not alone anymore.’”

This year, the program has helped 72 older adults remain in assisted living facilities. The nonprofit has existed since 2001.

Adopt A Senior

Here, you can develop relationships with long-term-care facility residents, some of whom who have few or no visitors.

People donate $50 annually through this New Jersey-based nonprofit to provide every resident of five long-term-care facilities in New York and New Jersey with personalized birthday gifts, holiday gifts and two seasonal gifts. Volunteers visit the facilities monthly for birthday celebrations, games and conversations, which help ease residents’ loneliness. You can meet the person you’re paired with if you choose to hand-deliver gifts with volunteers during these events. Some people stay in touch by phone or letter.

“They consider us their ‘family,’ and we feel the same about them,” says Annye Cohen, Adopt A Senior’s president and co-founder. “Our motto is: Seniors should never be forgotten, and we strive to do that each and every day.”

The program serves 1,300 older adults. Since 2014, it has distributed more than 9,000 gifts.

Adopt a Native Elder

Many older adults in remote areas of the Navajo Reservation in Utah and Arizona live below the poverty line. This nonprofit provides assistance beyond what the reservation’s elder care programs can address.

Donors provide $200 annually, covering the cost of a year’s worth of food for an older adult. The program also provides Navajo elders with medicine, clothing, firewood and other essentials. Once you sign on through this Utah-based nonprofit, you’ll receive a photo of the elder you’re paired with, along with his or her contact information, and you’ll be encouraged to stay in touch.

“Friendships that last a lifetime may develop between the elders and people who adopt them,” says Linda Myers, founder and executive director of Adopt a Native Elder.

Since 1991, the program has helped more than 2,000 Navajo elders. Today, over 560 older adults are enrolled in the program.

Be a Santa To a Senior

With this program, you can deliver holiday gifts to older adults across the U.S. and Canada who are identified as at-risk for loneliness, which helps them feel like they’re a part of a meaningful community.

Those who are identified as potentially lonely by local organizations request simple necessities like blankets, gloves and personal care items. Once you receive someone’s wish list, you shop, then return with the requested gifts.

This Nebraska-based program extends to more than 200 Home Instead Senior Care franchises. Some locations organize delivery events, so if you want to meet the person whom you’ve shopped for, you may be able to connect face-to-face.

“One recipient last year said, ‘I haven’t received a gift in over 10 years, and it made me feel so good to open a gift and to just have something new,’” says Jeff Huber, president and CEO of Home Instead Senior Care. “We hope that these small moments help to alleviate feelings of loneliness, so seniors are not only happier, but healthier each holiday season.”

Since 2003, more than 700,000 older adults have received gifts, and more than 1.2 million gifts have been given through the program.

By Lisa Fields
Lisa Fields is a writer who covers psychology and health matters as they relate to the workplace. She publishes frequently in WebMD and Reader’s Digest.

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