by Jill Woodley
As the holidays approach, and many of us look forward to gathering with family and friends, let’s take a moment to talk about the elephant in the room – loneliness.
What is the impact of loneliness and social isolation on seniors? Social isolation can be experienced at any point in our lives, but as we age, we are faced with circumstances that contribute to the issue. We may face the loss of a spouse, ill health, lower income, or difficulty accessing transportation. Our social networks may become smaller, and with the pandemic, families and friends had to stay away to protect their loved ones. With the world opening with caution, the fear still lingers with almost two years of “stay at home” messaging geared to those who are most vulnerable. Unfortunately, the protection of physical health has caused mental health to suffer and addressing this with solutions is paramount to recovery. It is important to recognize that not all seniors faced loneliness, as everyone adapts to trial in their own way, but as the pandemic stretched from weeks to months to almost two years, shifts in our state of mental health are inevitable.
Over the last several months, Seniors’ Community Services started “Porch Chats” to connect with clients, volunteers, and community supporters to understand the impact of our services, and how we help decrease loneliness and isolation. Transportation volunteer, Ron Flay has been driving seniors since 2015 offering clients rides, reassurance, and independence. Not only do our transportation volunteers offer their time and use of their vehicles, but they also provide a link to accessing medical appointments, treatments, community services, shopping, or social and recreational activities. During the isolation of the pandemic, SCS volunteers are on the front-line offering a wellness check, in addition to their service. When asked to share an experience about being a transportation volunteer, Ron answered with a warm smile, noting many of his clients enjoy his satellite radio with so many choices for music. Whether it is enjoying hits from the 60’s, or a calming conversation on the way to an appointment, Ron offers a safe space and an important service for SCS clients.
Sharing time with friends and family or stopping for a chit-chat with a neighbour is something we may have taken for granted pre-pandemic. Socializing reduces feelings of loneliness, but it also helps sharpen memory and cognitive skills, increases your sense of happiness and well-being, and may even help you live longer. When the pandemic hit, SCS volunteers could no longer do in-person visits, but knowing the risk seniors faced with isolation and loneliness, volunteers took to the phones. Over the last six months 312 phone calls by volunteers outreached to 193 clients. Dianne and Myrtle are two community members brought together through the Friendly Visitor program at SCS. They have been chatting once a week for over a year and have recently met in person for outdoor social time.
Seniors’ Centre Without Walls started in 2020 when meeting in person was not an option. It was to be a temporary solution to ensure there was no disconnect for seniors and the programs they enjoyed. The telephone became a meeting place to hear familiar voices, play games and hear stories. For many it was the opportunity to break out of the loneliness and be part of a community again.
At Seniors’ Community, we are mindful that the holiday season can sometimes be a lonely and isolating time. Our services continue through the holidays, and we are hopeful that seeing our volunteers when they drop off meals, offer a friendly visit or a drive will provide a special moment of contact.
From all of us at Seniors’ Community Service we send our warmest wishes and extend our deepest thanks for supporting the remarkable people who share this community with us.