I enjoy many of the activities that the JACL Washington, D.C., chapter puts on throughout the year, but the annual Keiro Kai celebration is especially meaningful to me. My close relationship with my grandparents played a big role in this, but I also think it’s just part of who I am. At family gatherings, I would, of course, play with my cousins, but I also spent a lot of time talking with my grandparents and older relatives. This is what ultimately led me to pursue social work and working at AARP.
Keiro Kai is a time where we honor, celebrate and show gratitude to our older members. The JACL Washington, D.C., chapter celebrated its annual Keiro Kai on Sept. 17, and this was the first one in-person since meeting virtually for the past two years.
It was great being together again, enjoying the delicious food and fun activities. I was also grateful for the opportunity to give a few remarks on what is important for older adults and their well-being.
I started by sharing my concern for older adults and isolation. Social isolation was a challenge before the Covid-19 pandemic and only got worse when stay-at-home orders went into effect.
AARP Chief Medical Officer Dr. Charlotte Yeh has often talked about the effect loneliness has on the body as being equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. This startling statistic comes from a meta-analysis co-authored by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. This finding is astonishing because most people are quick to think about how loneliness impacts our mind but less so how social isolation can impact our physical health.
I then shared that the JACL Washington, D.C., chapter board called its older members during the pandemic and sent them care packages. I was on the board at the time, and we thought it was important for us to check on our older members.
We wanted to see how they were doing and ask if they needed help with anything, such as a ride somewhere or groceries. Most responded that they didn’t need help with anything but that they really appreciated the call.
The AARP Foundation is working to fight social isolation and has created Connect2Affect. You can access Connect2Affect by going to Connect2Affect.org. There you can take an assessment to find out if you or a loved one is at risk for isolation and learn about the tools to overcome it.
Another good resource is AARP’s Friendly Voice program. Trained AARP Friendly Voice volunteers will provide a call to say hello. You can request a call directly by dialing (888) 281-0145 and leaving your name and telephone number when prompted. One of our volunteers will be calling you from (888) 281-0145, and the caller ID will say “800 Service.” Please take note of this number so that you recognize it when a volunteer calls. If the volunteer is not able to get a hold of you, they will leave a message.
So, consider doing something with your local JACL chapter or other community groups to reach out to your older members if you haven’t already, and remember to check in on your older family members and friends. A simple phone call can go a long way. It signals to them that you are thinking about them and that you care. In addition, you benefit from that call, too!
Scott Tanaka is a member of the JACL Washington, D.C., chapter and is a policy, research and international affairs adviser at AARP.