by Lilianne Fuller
Ironically, we are the most connected generation in history, yet we are communicating less and less. Face-to-face conversations are being replaced by email, Facebook postings, and texting. With less interpersonal communication there is a risk of becoming isolated – especially for seniors.
Isolation is defined as less social contact than an individual wishes. It leads to negative outcomes such as poor health, loneliness or other emotional distress. We have all been touched by isolation at least once in our lives but for seniors the risk of social isolation increases as they age.
Some contributing factors to isolation are financial, physical, or emotional. The death of a spouse, living on a fixed income and physical illness and disability all add to the danger of becoming isolated.
One in four seniors live below the poverty line and this necessitates making difficult financial choices. For example, Marie* was invited to attend a group outing but her phone bill was due. She, like others in her situation often decide to stay at home and ‘go the next time’. “Having a phone out here in Nanton is essential, and so many times, I have stayed home,” she says. “But at least I can call my friends and have a visit,” she adds.
Physical changes such as illness or disability are factors as well. The Forum of Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors have developed a toolkit to address social isolation among seniors. In it they describe the case of 86-year-old Hilda Wrenn*who lives in Edmonton. She had been active in her church but her declining vision led her to surrender her driver’s license. There was no bus service from where she lived and the neighbour who usually drove her moved away. Hilda rarely attends church any more. She was becoming depressed and lonely and her medical appointments were her only social outings.
Similar to depression
The signs of social isolation are similar to those of depression. They include poor appetite, sleeping too much, and having a feeling of invisibility. In seniors, feelings of confusion and paranoia are not uncommon as well. Appearance is neglected, and social skills decrease. Feelings of fear replace the anticipation of social interaction and lead to low self-esteem and a poor self-image.
The good news
But there is good news. Because of government initiatives and non-profit organizations collaborating, seniors in Alberta do not have to suffer from social isolation. There are resources available and ways to stay engaged, connected and involved.
The Drive Happiness Seniors Association is a good resource for seniors like Hilda. Their purpose is to help seniors maintain an independent lifestyle and remain in their own homes for as long as possible. The association provides service in the Edmonton area but is currently working to include more Alberta communities. “We do outreach to the areas surrounding Edmonton – primarily Leduc/Beaumont, Sherwood Park and St. Albert. We are working on continuing to expand into the surrounding counties”, says association Executive Director, Shannon Gill.
Sometimes a solution to alleviate isolation is as simple as dialing 211. A United Way program, it is a tremendous resource for Albertan seniors. If a senior is looking for a needed service or a place to find companionship, this is the place to start. Also funded by the United Way, the Helping Hands project has provided 228 Calgary inner city seniors with 1,480 rides to their doctors, the bank and other appointments in 2017/2018.
The office of the Seniors Advocate for Alberta is an excellent resource as well. They provide information and assistance for seniors needing income, social, home and health supports. They can be reached online at www.seniorsadvocateab.ca or by phone at 780-644-0682 or toll free at 1-844-644-0682.
Attending church is not only beneficial for the soul, it’s also very good for a person’s emotional health. Bible study groups are a good way to help a person get to know a wide variety of people. Many churches have care groups designed for any age and situation and some churches like Victory Church in Brooks have a bus ministry that provides rides to and from church on Sundays.
The issue of social isolation is very real and it’s true that one’s golden years may not be so golden if you are alone. So, remember, when loneliness comes to call, remember there are people and places to turn. With the support of United Way programs, organizations such as the Drive Happiness Seniors Association and local churches, seniors don’t have to be isolated.
*Name changed for privacy.
The Drive Happiness Seniors Association
780-424-5438 or firstname.lastname@example.org