Utah program reaching out to homebound, isolated seniors

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SALT LAKE CITY — Isolation and loneliness plagued Utah's seniors well before the age of COVID-19, but one organization is helping to create meaningful relationships for seniors who are homebound or suffer from any form of isolation.

Nancy Shelley's days are filled with silence, with only her memories to keep her company.

"Ty Detmer and his Heisman, I was security for that," Shelley said.

And even those are fading. Shelley was diagnosed with vascular dementia and early-onset Alzheimer's.

"I had to give up my ability to drive because I knew it wasn't safe, and so it confined me to four walls," Shelley said. "And nobody comes in and out and there's not a lot of calls."

However, one friend has helped to break the silence.

"If Nancy has something going on that she needs help with, especially emotionally, she will call me," Dahnelle Smith said.

Smith has just been a phone call away.

"She was my sanity," Shelley said. "I knew I could count on a call every day and she always seemed to call when I needed it the most. It was just nice to hear another human voice, and especially for it to be her because I trust her."

While Shelley and Smith have never met in person, their conversations have all been over the phone as part of the Friendly Callers program.

Bonnie Lewis, Friendly Callers program creator.
Bonnie Lewis, Friendly Callers program creator. (Photo: Aubrey Shafer, KSL TV)

"It's where a senior who is homebound gets a call once a week, at least, from somebody who is a volunteer. They can make it more than that if they want to, we have one that, I think they call once a day," said Bonnie Lewis.

Lewis created the Friendly Callers program after seeing so much loneliness among homebound seniors, who sometimes go without human contact for weeks.

"They even put it with smoking," Lewis. "It can be that dangerous for their physical health."

And something as simple as a phone call goes a long way.

"It's really nice to hear another voice," Shelley said. "We are not meant to be alone."

Friendly Callers programs serve seniors in Wasatch, Summit, and Utah counties, and they accept volunteers from anywhere in the state.

If you would like to volunteer, or if you or someone you know would benefit from phone calls, you can find more information here.

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Aubrey Shafer


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