The CARE office in the CareerForce Center in Aitkin is bustling with activity and full of boxes of white bags.
About 300 “Thinking of You” bags are being assembled to deliver to isolated elders.
“This is a reminder, that during this time of a pandemic, we are all in this together,” said Lynne Jacobs, executive director of Aitkin County CARE. “This is a friendly gesture to provide a ‘hello’ and distribute stamped, blank notecards and envelopes with which seniors may reach out to others.”
The bags contain the note cards, a snack, uni-sex stockings, a pen, a “Thinking of You” decorated stick and information on resources.
Loneliness and social isolation among the elderly in Aitkin County was already an issue before Covid-19. Many seniors cling to their homes in the country -- some of which are badly in need of repair. As they give up driving and lose their peer group as they age, friendly visits become rare. Working-age children and grandchildren have full lives and may squeeze in a few short and random visits, as do neighbors.
But for the majority of their long days, these seniors are alone. Watching too much television news feeds their fears of going out and getting an illness.
Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.
People who find themselves unexpectedly alone due to the death of a spouse or partner, separation from friends or family, retirement, loss of mobility, and lack of transportation, are at particular risk.
Conversely, people who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others tend to live longer, boost their mood, and have a sense of purpose. These activities seem to help maintain their well-being and may improve their cognitive function, studies show.
These cheerful bags have also cemented some community relationships. GuidePoint Pharmacy, Riverwood Healthcare Center, Mille Lacs Energy, and Garrison Disposal of Aitkin all donated bags to be stuffed.
MacKenzie Krawchuk, a youth worker with the Northeastern Minnesota Office of Jobs and Training, decorated note cards and lettered the stick ornaments while CARE staff assembled bags.
To carry on the community partnership, the new Aitkin County Habitat for Humanity partner family, as well as senior companions and CARE respite workers, will deliver the bags and give the elderly a bright spot in their day.
Referrals of seniors’ names are welcome from neighbors, friends and relatives. Please supply CARE with the names and contact information of isolated seniors who could use a friendly visit and pick me up. Also, let CARE know if you want that senior to remain on the list for a weekly, friendly-visit phone call. Phone calls can even be daily. When everything opens up again, some of these seniors may be great candidates for homemaking or Senior Companion services.
“We want just to bring a little spring brightness and hope to our seniors,” summed up Jacobs.