Helping the elderly doesn't have to be hard. Here are 5 ideas you may not have considered.

Being a caretaker for an elderly loved one is a full-time job. It's tough. It's rewarding. It's life-changing.

So let's take a second to give it up for all the people who are taking care of their elderly loved ones and friends today.

The happiness and love these caregivers bring to the lives of the elderly can't be overstated. But it's not just transformative for the senior who's getting the help that they need — it impacts the caregiver's lives in a big way as well.


Photo by AP X 90 on Unsplash.

Unfortunately, however, there are many seniors who aren't lucky enough to have that compassion in their lives.

As life expectancy continues to rise, many of us can look forward to living well into our 80s, but that can also lead to new stresses, especially for those who don't have loved ones around to help when everyday tasks become difficult. For example, what happens to the senior who doesn't have children to take care of them? Or perhaps their spouse who carried out most of the day-to-day chores suddenly passes away? That's why it's important for community members not to forget the senior citizens who might need a little help, kindness, compassion and emotional support.

You may have already thought about wanting to lend a hand to the aging population, but perhaps you don't know where to start. You might also be familiar with the hard work caregivers do, and feel like you're not exactly cut out for something like that.

Here's some good news though: despite what you might think, you do have what it takes to help. And you don't have to be a full-time caregiver in order to make a real change in a senior's life.

Here are just five ways that you can give back to your elders and enrich your own life as well.

1. Volunteer in your community, even if it's unstructured.

Photo by Jack Finnigan/Unsplash.

No matter where you live, there are senior citizens who need your help. A great way to get started giving back is to simply be mindful of opportunities that appear in the moment. Do you see an elderly person struggling to get their groceries to the door? Ask if you can help. Is there someone in your building who may be delighted by a short visit or an invitation for a walk? Spend some time with them. Offer to mow their lawn or water their plants. See if they need some help washing the car. Make and share a meal with them.

It's often hard for older people to ask for help themselves. But if you just show up and say, "I'm here if you need me," it takes the onus off of them. Even something as small as giving an elderly person a ride to the store or bringing a them their mail makes an impact.

2. Spend time at a senior center or a care home.

Photo by Oren Atias/Unsplash

Did you know that many folks who live in senior care facilities have very few visitors? In fact, recent research suggests that approximately 6o percent of residents may have no visitors at all. The reasons why are far too many to enumerate here, but the reality is that the seniors who live in such residences may feel lonely or out of place, which can certainly take a toll on both their mental and physical health.

That's where you come in.

Most senior living facilities welcome volunteers. And there are so many things you can do, though just spending time with residents is an excellent first step.

Do you have a skill that you could teach or a service you could offer? You can turn a few hours a week into an experience that both you and the seniors you bond with will remember forever. In Raleigh, North Carolina, for example, a group called Senior TechEd teaches the elderly how to master the latest technology.

If you're frustrated by the fact that your own grandparents didn't get how to use a smartphone before you came along with a tutorial, consider reaching out to a care facility to see if you can provide the same service to other seniors in the area. Not only will they thank you for it, they'll probably stop using "lol" to mean "lots of love."

3. Support your elders by listening to them. You might learn a thing or two.

Photo by Corey Theiss via Flickr.

It may feel like people who are older don't have to worry about the same things you do. But once you hit retirement, life isn't just a pleasant existence of taking walks, watching TV, and getting the best deals at restaurants. Older folks worry about the same things anyone under the age of 65 do — money, friendships, the stress of day-to-day life. They just might not have anyone to discuss their concerns with.

One way to help is by looking for opportunities to be that obliging ear for them. Believe it or not, there are actually organizations, like The Friendship Line at The Institute on Aging in San Francisco, that help you do just that. The program connects volunteers with seniors who need someone to talk to. In some cases, these volunteers may be the senior's only point of social contact, so the service they provide is invaluable.

You don't have to live in San Francisco or even be a member of an organization like The Friendship Line to help, though. Consider doing your own outreach. There's likely a senior in your community who would love to hear from you. Pick up the phone, dial their number, and ask how they're really doing. You might be surprised by the bond that forms out of it.

4. Seniors love having fun. Join them.

Photo by John Moeses Bauan/Unsplash.

Kindness is important, but so is fun. Sometimes, we forget that older people like doing fun things just as much as anyone else. Sure, they may not be able to ride as many roller coasters (so maybe put the Six Flags excursion on hold), but if you're thinking of volunteering, don't mistake "helping" for "just sitting there quietly and doing nothing except drinking tea."

Here are some other, less traditional ideas: organize a nature walk for the seniors at a local center, lead a 45-minute-dance club for seniors once a week, teach a craft class, or start a drama group or book club. Whatever your passion is in life, why not see if you could turn it into an opportunity to brighten the lives of the seniors in your community? (Except if your passion is riding rollercoasters. The inner ear isn't what it used to be at 70!)

5. Send in the animals (but only the chill, safe ones)!

Photo by Jari Hytönen/Unsplash.

Did you know that animals can help reduce stress? Just stroking the soft fur of a dog, cat or even guinea pig can make people feel a little bit better. Not every senior citizen can take care of a pet full-time, but that doesn't mean that they can't or shouldn't enjoy the benefits that being with one provides. In fact, some care facilities have joined forces with local animal organizations to connect seniors with valuable animal time. Not only can this help seniors feel more connected, it allows those who have a hard time interacting with people experience an important bond.

If this sounds up your ally, see if you can bring some animals to seniors who live in a local facility. Do you have an chill animal of your own? Call up one of the local organizations that help seniors and arrange for some time for your pet to visit (but make sure it's okay with the facility first).

Many of us believe that for kindness to be effective, it has to be all sacrifice and grand gestures.

But that's not true at all. Spend a few minutes a day or an hour a week helping the people around you. It can be as little a gesture as just say "hi," to your elderly neighbor when they go out to water their garden. The act may be small — the difference you'll be making won't be.

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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


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Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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