A growing number of older Canadians are experiencing social isolation and loneliness. While one doesn’t necessarily accompany the other, these can result in both physical and mental harm. However, through community services, older adults can be supported to develop new relationships and maintain their health.
Social Isolation and Loneliness are Different
Sometimes these terms are interchangeable, but according to the Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health (CCSMH), social isolation is measurable, whereas loneliness is how people feel and much harder to quantify.
CCSMH says nearly one in five Canadians 65 or older say they lack companionship, with one-third at risk of social isolation. The COVID pandemic affected many people, but seniors were heavily affected; they weren’t returning to work, may be experiencing functional decline, or have lost friends to COVID or other causes. As a result, they may be lonely due to the lack of meaningful relationships.
Why Older People Are Socially Isolated and Lonely
There are many factors involved in putting people over 65 at risk of isolation and loneliness. Few Canadians have intergenerational homes, families are often dispersed in many communities or provinces, and lower birth rates result in fewer family members to visit elders.
Accessibility is another issue. While some older people lack mobility, others lack access to parks, coffee shops, senior centres or other places near their homes where like-minded people might gather. Poor health, low income and rural living will magnify these challenges significantly, according to Canada’s National Institute on Ageing.
Isolation and Loneliness Contribute to Poor Health
Social isolation and loneliness can result in a range of consequences. Behaviours such as smoking, increased alcohol use and lack of physical activity contribute to cardiac disease, poor mental health and the use of mood-altering substances. These increase the risks of falls, decreased cognition and poor nutrition. They also put vulnerable people at risk of elder abuse with no connections to ask for help.
Effectively Addressing Social Isolation and Loneliness
In British Columbia, there are many agencies available to support those who feel isolated or lonely. Many are members of BC CRN, creating a strong community of support that provides valuable opportunities for older people to stay connected.
Diversity is key to inclusion and programming should be inclusive and culturally safe for members of Indigenous, 2SLGBTQ, racialized and ethno-cultural communities. Of course, every community is unique and programs will reflect that.
Peer Support Programs: End Loneliness, Spread Happiness
Dr. Kristine Theurer has developed structured peer support and peer mentoring programs that see participants uplift others and become uplifted themselves.
Her award-winning Java Group Programs were designed to address the critical rates of depression and loneliness across the senior living spectrum and older adults in the community. Java Group Programs are currently offered in over 1,800 organizations throughout North America.
Join Dr. Theurer on November 21 from 10:30 to noon for the November Provincial Learning Event: End Loneliness, Spread Happiness. Learn about Dr. Theurer’s research and the results they are producing across North America.