'Friendship Line' created by Institute on Aging in SF helps seniors cope with COVID-19 anxiety

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Isolation is the new norm as a result of the shelter-at-home mandate in six Bay Area counties.

Seniors in particular have lost access to activity and lunch programs where they can socialize and share their worries.

Where do they turn now?

"We're putting a lot of concern nationally on the economic recession, or the threat of that," said Dr. Patrick Arbore. "But there's also the threat of the emotional recession."

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Arbore created the Friendship Line 47 years ago at the Institute on Aging in San Francisco.

Its staff and volunteers have seen a substantial increase in calls from seniors who need to express their anxiety about needing someone to comfort them in this age of coronavirus.

He shared a conversation.

"One was talking to me today about being a child during the duck and cover era from when they were seven or 8-years-old and how scary that was, and she said, I'm feeling that same way," Arbore said. "I'm feeling like a child, I'm scared, and I want my mother."

The Friendship Line takes calls from all over the Bay Area - nearly a quarter million calls last year.

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The volunteers now work at home instead of a centralized call center to conform to social distancing. But their reassuring voices are there. Some are students studying psychology and others are seniors themselves with empathy for their peers.

"Many people have some mental health concerns, and a lot of those mental health concerns get exacerbated during times of high stress, exactly what we're facing right now," said J. Thomas Briody, CEO of the Institute on Aging.

The hope is that by providing a reassuring voice, the Friendship Line can help to prevent a lonely senior from falling into deeper isolation as the entire Bay Area shelters at home.

The Friendship Line operates 24 hours a day at 800-971-0016.
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