Elderly are crying out for somebody to keep them company

PERHAPS they can no longer tie their shoes.

They may not remember names or faces, might misplace things and need a little extra help eating, showering and dressing.

During their lives they have raised families, fought for their country and seen the world change into an almost unrecognisable place.

They are the keepers of history; they know the stories of their generation.

But now, they just want someone to talk to.

Scores, and perhaps hundreds, of elderly people living on the Sunshine Coast are alone.

Some still live in their own homes while others are in nursing homes and aged-care facilities.

Shirley Baker, coordinator of the Community Visitors Scheme, says the problem is becoming worse.

In some cases the elderly people's children and family live interstate.

Some have moved to the Coast - away from family and friends - for their retirement "dream", only to lose their partner.

In some of the most tragic cases, families have abandoned them because they cannot cope with their deteriorating condition.

Mrs Baker, whose organisation provides companionship to residents in government-subsidised aged-care homes, said the job could be heart-breaking.

Sometimes, the elderly people will ask her to pretend she is not a volunteer when she visits them.

"They say, 'Don't wear your badge this time, I want people to think you're my friend'," she said.

At one facility she visits, there are 16 elderly people who have no regular visitors.

"They have nobody. Their relatives are interstate or they may have died and that's scary," she said.

An increasing number had been left behind by families forced to move away for work.

"What I'm finding is a lot of families are moving away for jobs and because it's so hard to have elderly people in the house, they're often put into homes," Mrs Baker said.

"We've often found if they get a visitor that gets them out of their room, even if it's only for 10 minutes.

"It assists them in their independence.

"It's basically improving the quality of their life."

But volunteer visitors are in short supply.

Mrs Baker said she had just 24 people available to visit aged-care homes between Caboolture and Tewantin. Often, their role is just to listen.

"We just see a little old lady or a little old man, and we forget they're another person," she said.

"What a lot of people don't realise when you get these people talking is they have a history.

"It's amazing what his tories people have."

The volunteer shortage has become so dire, Mrs Baker fears the service will not meet its quota and therefore not be eligible to receive government funding.

More details on the Community Visitors Scheme.

If you would like to volunteer, phone the Aged and Community Care Information Line on 1800 500 853 or Shirley Baker from CVS on 0407 076 760.

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