Oct 1 was “Seen Your Citizen” Day – HelpAge Canada’s multicultural, multi-faith and intergenerational day of sharing to help reduce isolation among seniors. The following are remarks given by Seniors on Site‘s very own Director of Marketing, Caroline Midgley, as a panel member at the event.
Causes of Isolation
As we age, our health and social world changes. For some of us, our health may be deteriorating, we may no longer be able to drive, many of our friends have passed away, our families live at a distance and we no longer have the strong social and family support network of our working and early retirement years. We may have even lost a spouse after years of care giving and some of us become socially isolated in the process.
Connection to Resources and Services
The key is to keep connection through resources in the community. Ottawa is blessed with resource and recreation centres that provide a host of recreation, educational and social services for seniors.
However, many seniors may not feel comfortable going to an activity or an event alone. They may no longer be able to drive and there may not be good transportation services in their neighbourhood at “age-friendly” times. Others may not be able to attend because they are a caregiver for a spouse who has Alzheimer’s or who is physically disabled and can’t be left alone. The social isolation begins.
Sometimes the caregiver is embarrassed to let others know that they need help. Sometimes the senior doesn’t want to admit they need help for fear of prematurely having to leave their home and go to a retirement home or long term care facility.
Forms of Isolation
Isolation occurs in many forms – while many studies and services target people who are at or near the poverty level, there are others who are simply alone and lonely. They can no longer drive, have poor vision and have lost many friends. Others are recently retired and feeling without a sense of purpose because their identity was tied up in their work for 40 plus years. This is especially challenging for the person who lives alone.
It’s O.K. to Get Help
Making it o.k. for people to ask for and get help at home and to take advantage of social, recreation and community programs is a good place to start.
Some Solutions: Community Resources and Private Agencies Such as Seniors on Site
There are community and health support services and private agencies that provide home and personal care support for seniors such as housekeeping and home maintenance, transportation for medical appointments and grocery shopping, handy helper services, companion care and respite care for caregivers.
It has been shown that family caregivers are themselves at a high risk of social isolation. A few nights ago I was at an evening meeting with some women and one of the women said this would likely be her last evening out as her husband has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and she will no longer be able to leave him alone.
Seniors on Site, the company I represent, hires people who are 50+ years of age, to provide home care services to seniors and families to make their lives easier. This is a win/win for both the caregiver and the client. They build a terrific relationship and what starts out as light housekeeping can evolve into companion care and developing a strong family-type relationship. The seniors feel valued and listened to.
The community resource centres provide a wide range of services to assist seniors and the Good Companions new Seniors’ Centre Without Walls is designed specifically for isolated seniors 55+ and adults with physical disabilities. Rachel Sokolsky, the Centre’s Coordinator says seniors’ isolation has a real impact on the health and overall well-being of seniors. “This program will give back that sense of friendship, belonging and community. It’s about “investing in people who have invested so much in us. Instead of isolation, desolation and the feeling of worthlessness, it is about inclusion, self-worth and empowerment. It’s about having something to look forward to and know that someone out there is listening and noticing you.”
Importance of Recreation and Leisure for a Healthy Society
Seniors on Site has partnered with Dovercourt Recreation Centre to help seniors improve their quality of life and remain active in the community and at home. SOS is sponsoring Dovercourt’s Seniors Ambassadors program to train seniors to train other seniors to be facilitators and volunteers for the programs and clubs that focus on social recreation and exercise.
We understand the importance of recreation, fitness and leisure in ensuring a healthy community for seniors. A recent article by Jeff Anderson on 14 ways to Help Seniors Avoid Social Isolation recommends that a sense of purpose and well-being is a way to promote social health and connectedness.
Sense of Purpose
Sense of purpose: “Seniors with a sense of purpose or hobbies that really interest them are less likely to succumb to the negative effects of social isolation.” Hobbies and interests that are social in nature, for example playing bridge, joining a walking or hiking club, lunch and learn meetings, travel clubs are good for social health and well-being.
Volunteering is also a great way to maintain and express a sense of purpose. For example, the Council on Aging has a host of volunteers working with the City to make Ottawa an age-friendly environment. Volunteers are working on education, events, transportation, income security, housing, and health issues and help seniors access information and services and better understand issues that arise as a result of aging.
Support and Encouragement Help Alleviate Isolation and Promote Empowerment
Positive social interaction, community and home care services, and neighbourly support and encouragement go a long way to help keep seniors active and healthy.
–Caroline Midgley, Director of Marketing, Seniors on Site
Panel member, HelpAge Canada, “Seen your Citizen?”