After thousands of strangers show up for an unclaimed veteran, experts shed light on seniors who are aging alone

Study shows effects of loneliness on the elderly

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Tuesday, thousands of people showed up to the funeral of a veteran who died without any friends or family willing to claim him. But the experts said there are thousands of seniors in Sarasota who are still living that reality.

How can the community help? What resources are available?

The Senior Friendship Center provided the following statistics: more than 40 percent of seniors regularly experience loneliness, especially after a spouse or loved one dies.

Seniors who report feeling lonely see a 45 percent increase in their risk of death. Older adults who are alone have a 59 percent greater risk of mental and physical decline. Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26 percent.

There are 12.5 million older adults living in one person households. Lonely people have a 64 percent increased chance of developing dementia.

There are a number of ways and resources to help, but the experts said one of the best is a lot more simple than people may think.

“Old people like you to listen to them," said Fredric Douglas Binion, a volunteer at the Senior Friendship Center.

The self-proclaimed ‘daytime bartender’ serves soda, snacks, and coffee to the seniors. But more importantly, Binion has spent the last five years as a volunteer listening.

“They’ve lost a spouse, lost loved ones throughout, over the years," Binion explained. "I’ve lost a spouse, so I can relate to where they are. I can go to that place.”

Many who age alone describe the loneliness as suffocating.

“They come here because if you stay at home, the walls move in on you," Binion added. "I know this from experience of being at home, being a widower. This is a great place to come because everyday. You have music. Everyday you have somebody to talk to.”

When an 80-year-old veteran’s obituary went viral, more than two thousand strangers traveled from near and far to pay their respects at his funeral.

“What if 2,000 people showed up for seniors and veterans in Sarasota who are still with us?” questioned Crystal Rothhaar, communications director for the Senior Friendship Center.

Staff said they’re always looking for volunteers and numerous other places on the Suncoast are, too. The few that could really use the help are nursing homes, a hospice and veteran organizations.

“Loneliness is the malnutrition of the elderly and there are so many people who are alone," Rothhaar said. "At Senior Friendship Centers, we have activity centers, we have dining centers where people come and just eat lunch with people so that they have social connection with another person.”

Other activities include fitness classes, dancing, even workshops on topics like fraud prevention and iPhones, but the Friendship Center isn’t the only option.

In Bradenton, the Senior Enrichment Center offers similar services and AARP is a nationwide senior advocacy group with an office in Sarasota.

  • For more information about the Senior Friendship Centers located in Sarasota and Venice, click here.
  • The Jewish Family and Children’s Service of the Suncoast also offers a number of resources for the elderly. For more information about this agency, click here.
  • For more information about the Senior Enrichment Center in Bradenton, click here.
  • For more information about AARP, click here. The AARP Foundation currently operates the Senior Community Service Employment Program in 72 locations, including an office in Sarasota. The address is 1750 17th Street, Bldg M, Sarasota, FL 34234 and the phone number is 941-366-9039.

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