Department for the Aging fights loneliness with robotic pets, friendly visiting and more

Image courtesy of Ageless Innovation

After serving as a senior adviser to Mayor Bill de Blasio, I am honored to serve as the new Commissioner of the New York City Department for the Aging and to serve the city’s 1.6 million diverse older adults. I plan to highlight and address critical priorities for older New Yorkers, like social isolation.

In a city of nearly 9 million people, many will endure loneliness – especially as they age. In fact, 1 in 5 older adults are socially isolated, which can lead to depression and a decline in physical health. Carrolyn Minggia, 64, is among them. She battles a syndrome that causes her immune system to attack her nerves. Since the death of her aunt, whom she moved to New York to care for, she also battles loneliness. We recently gave Minggia a robotic dog to ease that loneliness. The dog has sensors, responds to touch, barks and nuzzles and provides comfort.

But technology isn’t the only way to fight the widespread problem of social isolation. Low-tech approaches, like acknowledging and greeting people or checking on older neighbors, go a long way. In 2017, we launched our ThriveNYC Friendly Visiting Program, which pairs trusted and trained volunteers with isolated older adults. In just a few years, we have provided more than 50,000 hours of in-home visits. Beyond those visits, the program allows for intergenerational exchange in which strong bonds are formed between visitors and program participants.

Older adults who wish to explore options outside of the home can visit more than 200 senior centers across the city, many representing the languages and cultures that make New York City strong. The centers are safe places to socialize, have a meal with friends, take fitness and wellness classes, enjoy art classes, and attend cultural activities. Senior center membership is free to anyone age 60 or older.

The Department for the Aging also plans to launch a campaign that highlights the problem of social isolation in order to encourage more people to explore resources that are available to them through the City of New York.

If you are isolated, call 311 for more information about available services. The Department for the Aging is here to help.

Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez is commissioner of the New York City Department for the Aging. Prior to joining the de Blasio administration, she served in executive leadership roles with AARP, EmblemHealth and other organizations. She also served as New York’s first Latina Secretary of State.

More from Around New York