A Crisis for seniors:  Isolation and Loneliness

I’m Barrie, I’m 88 and I warmly welcome you to my monthly blog Over50andfit.ca.

I have a question for you: Apart from health issues, what is the most critical concern for many seniors? Answer: It’s most probably loneliness.

My purpose is to document the crucial issue of senior isolation and loneliness, and respond to how we can help seniors to help themselves. An integral part of the human psyche is to be social and coexist with other people.

Global concern

Senior lady

The explosion in the numbers of seniors world-wide has spawned a critical international issue. The United Nations claims that the number of seniors is projected to more than double, rising from 761 million in 2021 to 1.6 billion in 2050. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that the loneliness generated could become a global health threat.

Loneliness among seniors

Loneliness may be experienced at any age. However, it can be of particular concern amongst seniors, and can become one of the most crucial problems they face. Most seniors naturally crave human contact, but their circumstances may prevent them from forming connections. Within the next two decades in Canada, it’s estimated that one out of every four people will be a senior. I recall recently being in a café and hearing an elderly person whisper to another: What is the number one silent killer among seniors? She retorted: Loneliness.

Loneliness among seniors

Older adults are at an increased risk of loneliness, because they are more likely to face factors such as: living alone, have lost family and friends, suffer from chronic illness, reduced social networks, poverty, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, lack transportation and have a fear of becoming a burden. Any of these factors can sap interest, steal energy, and seal them off from social interaction. Some don’t even have anyone to call for support, or even ask a simple question.

How you can help seniors overcome loneliness

  • Visit them in their home
  • Talk to them on the phone – check out the 8-minute rule
  • Help them with transportation
  • Empower them to take the first step to social interaction
  • Suggest that they own a pet for company
  • Advise them to join community groups
  • Encourage them to bridge the digital divide, and open a myriad of opportunities

A revolutionary app for seniors

Zeni (zeniarts.com) is a free app which is being developed. Fluffy, a virtual dog – acts as an emotional companion – uses advanced artificial intelligence to converse with seniors. The app is powered by AI with training in cognitive behavioural therapy. The purpose of Zeni is to encourage seniors to engage in conversation. Angeline Guo created the app while volunteering with seniors, and experiencing their social isolation and exclusion.

Some steps seniors can take to overcome loneliness

  • Track down friends on social media
  • Go online and research all the resources available for seniors
  • Take advantage of community resources, such as senior centres and places of worship
  • Exercise is crucial – walking is one of the most beneficial exercises
  • Cultivate hobbies and pastimes: painting, drawing, cooking, crafts, book clubs, photography, chess, gardening, reading, computers, carpentry, online courses, jigsaw puzzles, pickle ball (the fastest growing sport for seniors in North America)
  • Become a volunteer: this can become one of the most rewarding of endeavors
  • Contact your doctor, who can provide you with appropriate help
  • Start conversations with strangers, who are walking their dog, standing at a bus stop, in a supermarket lineup, in a café

Further help for seniors

A dedicated group’s mission – to reduce social isolation – enables seniors to receive messages and telephone calls from volunteers. Coordinators set up groups of volunteers in their community. Volunteers are then assigned to seniors, providing a great way to interact with them.

Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults

Scroll down on the site and locate this book on the left side. It contains a wealth of information for and about seniors, and health-care workers. Furthermore, much of the book can be read online free.

Do consider reaching out to a senior and lending a helping hand. Your support could make an immeasurable impact.

Your comments and questions are most welcomed.

 Yours in fitness,

Barrie

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Allan

One of my neighbours is a senior who I often encounter in the lobby of our building where he’s usually waiting for the Handy Dart bus to pick him up. Despite his limited mobility and health, he makes the effort, twice weekly, to venture out to a nearby community centre for a meet-up with others or lunch at some new noodle bar. My contribution is to not just rush by, but stop for a chat about the latest follies of the Canucks or BlueJays, some neighbourhood gossip or share about a favourite restaurant. I know it makes me feel more connected with those in my building and I hope it adds just one more pleasant element when he’s deciding whether or not to make the effort to venture out. It really doesn’t take much effort to combat loneliness and isolation, but it’s also easy to get stuck in my own head. Thanks for the nudge Barrie.

Cheers, Allan

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