It’s a fact; more and more people are living alone than at any time in recent history. More than fifty percent of those over age 75 live by themselves. For adults over age 50, millions are affected by isolation. 26 percent of those over 75 will be at an increased risk of death by living alone.
Social isolation in seniors can result in a reduction of their social skills. These seniors participate less in their communities. Many of them develop depression and other mental illnesses. Social isolation is also a risk factor for abuse of the elderly. Disabled seniors also tend to be isolated more than others, leading to alcohol and drug abuse, unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise.
In today’s tech-centered age, staying in touch with friends and family members from all over the country has never been easier. With just a few clicks of a mouse or a text on your smart phone, you can easily stay connected with individuals from all across the world. However, even with all of this technology at our fingertips, there are many seniors today who live in complete social isolation and who deal with debilitating loneliness.
While this may seem like a rather mild problem in a world where heart disease, cancer and dementia take the lives of so many seniors, studies have found that loneliness can actually have a very serious impact on the health and well-being of seniors today.
One study found that individuals age 60 and older who report feelings of loneliness had a 45 percent higher risk of death than those who do not report feeling lonely. Meanwhile, isolated seniors have a 59 percent greater risk of mental and physical decline than individuals who do not experience this type of social isolation.
So why am I writing this column filled with doom, gloom and loneliness at the height of the summer when most people are out gardening, meeting acquaintances for lunch, enjoying leisurely strolls in the neighbourhood, participating in summer sports, vacationing at the cottage, or all those other wonderful things that make the summer season so special? I am writing it because not everyone is able to partake of the pleasures we take for granted.
While you were out for your afternoon stroll did you happen to notice Mrs. Smith in her rather run-down little house with the gardens overgrown and the lawn not mowed while she huddled behind closed curtains because the bright light affected her eyes? How about Mr. Jones who has become increasingly gaunt and weak as he pines for his beloved wife who passed away a year ago?
So how can you help? You can call Irene at 613-969-0130 and ask about becoming a Friendly Visitor. You can join our wonderful family of volunteers and it will only take a couple of hours per week to make a difference in someone’s life. We would match you with a suitable senior in the community that you would visit weekly and engage them in a stimulating conversation, or go for a leisurely walk, or a coffee at the local café, or engage in a favourite activity or hobby. Go ahead – pick up the phone and be the person that makes a difference for Mrs. Smith or Mr. Jones.