Overcoming Social Isolation

Studies have shown that older Canadians are at a higher risk of social isolation than other segments of the population.

Because loneliness and depression can lead to other health problems there has been significant attention paid to battling isolation, particularly for older individuals.

About 16 per cent of Canadian seniors have felt socially isolated at some time, according to Statistics Canada.

Recognizing social isolation

A study done by the National Seniors Council found there were characteristics that put some seniors at greater risk of social isolation than others. These include:

  • Being over 80 years old;
  • Women are more likely to live longer and therefore are more susceptible to isolation;
  • Immigrants are more likely than nationals to feel isolated from the larger community;
  • Rural or remote residents or those who live quite a distance from family;
  • Those who have disabilities or health problems;
  • Anyone going through a life transition such as a loss of spouse or community;

There are several other factors that can impact the feelings of isolation including access to transportation, reduction of discrimination and social inclusion, according to the study.

Further research done by Statistics Canada found that five per cent of seniors stated they felt there wasn’t anyone to listen to them. As well, eight per cent said they didn’t have anyone to speak to or receive advice from if they were trying to solve a problem or in the face of a crisis. In addition, six per cent indicated they do not participate in activities with family or friends.

Social isolation can have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of older Canadians. Depression and loneliness can have detrimental consequences for an individual including causing poor sleep habits, a muted immune system and even an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

Tips to cope

Experts believe that staying active – both physically and mentally – are the keys to avoiding isolation and negative health outcomes.

This can include taking a class, joining a fitness group, becoming a mentor, volunteering, and so on.

Here are some ways you can overcome feelings of isolation:

  • Find a hobby or activity that provides a sense of purpose. This is particularly helpful if it is a group activity.
  • Ensure you have accessible transportation available. Having reliable public transportation or senior transportation options provides a sense of independence.
  • Adopt an animal. Nothing makes you feel needed like having a pet dependent upon you. It also offers some companionship and an excuse to stay active.
  • Help out. Volunteer at local organizations, churches or even businesses. The experience can provide a feeling of belonging, a sense of purpose and even a way to meet new people.
  • Exercise. Staying physically active is vital to a healthy mind and body.  It's even better if you can join a fitness class with a friend or a group to add a social element to the activity.
  • Connect with family or friends. We are social creatures and need social interaction and stimulation to feel connected. Visiting often with family or good friends is important to help fight feelings of loneliness or isolation.
  • Be available. For those older individuals who find it hard to get out, sign up for social or volunteer programs that bring people to you. Meals on Wheels or other visitation programs for seniors can help you feel connected, even when you are unable to leave your home.
  • Join a club or class. Group activities can be a good place for mental and social stimulation. It can also put us in touch with others who have similar interests.

Conclusion

Social isolation can be a major concern as we age. While it can be caused by factors out of our control, such as our mobility or transportation limitations, it can also be trounced by actions we take today. Make a point of staying involved in your communities and society and continue to expand your reach by attending a new class or activity.

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