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Understanding and Combatting Social Isolation

Is combatting social isolation a thing for seniors? In my twenties, I believed that my grandparents had nothing better to do with their time but complain that their grandchildren did not call them. Now that I’m in my thirties and a mother, I have come to understand the significance of regular human contact and how it directly affects one’s emotional well-being. Social isolation may be a trending topic, but it is a very real-life experience for many elderly individuals.

My grandparents came to Montreal, Canada, from the island of Trinidad and Tobago, in the early seventies. They moved to Ontario in the eighties and gave their lives to their jobs, their church community, and their families.  When I was growing up, I noticed my grandparents didn’t have an active social life, but they weren’t loners either. They went to church every Sunday, and my grandfather sat on the board of directors at his church.

My grandfather retired before my grandmother and seemed pleased to have worked one job for thirty years and have the opportunity to retire. A short five years later, my grandmother retired, and the family came together to celebrate the milestone. Even though my grandparents both looked forward to retiring, neither of them had any post-retirement plans. When asked what they planned on doing with all their free time, I can’t recall them having much of an answer.

My grandparents have been retired for over fifteen years, and social isolation has become their new everyday reality. Their generation didn’t have the privilege to learn about living a purpose-driven life or discovering who you are outside of your family, community, and job. Both of my grandparents came from challenging situations growing up. Therefore, they had a different perspective on life than the rest of our family.

Social isolation “is a state of complete or near-complete lack of contact between an individual and society. It differs from loneliness, which reflects a temporary and involuntary lack of contact with other humans in the world. Social isolation can be an issue for individuals of any age… Social isolation can include staying home for lengthy periods, having no communication with family, acquaintances or friends, and/or willfully avoiding any contact with other humans when those opportunities do arise.”

As my grandparents grew older, our family saw them less at family functions and holidays.  My grandpa was unable to drive far distances or go upstairs because he has knee issues, so on most holidays; he was absent.  My grandma would try to attend family gatherings, but as time went on, my grandparents were seen less and less and less. 

Seventeen percent of the elderly community report being socially isolated and over forty percent of older adults experience loneliness. Social isolation has been linked to increased deaths, depression, dementia, and elder abuse.   A McMaster University research article shared findings that “programs that were group-based, grounded in theory, and incorporated active input from participants and social support/activity appeared to provide the most benefit. Programs may help improve physical, mental (e.g. depression and mental well-being), and social (e.g. social support and loneliness) health in older adults who are or are thought to be lonely or socially isolated.” Attending activities and programs are some solutions to social isolation. But ensuring older adults are equipped with thought patterns that value the need for socialization, I believe, will be the solution for social isolation. 

Buddy Services by Ekklesia Hub’s mission is to fill the gap where social isolation is concerned.  Buddy Services provides meaningful, empathetic companionship and transportation services, to doctor appointments, community activities, running errands and family functions.  After becoming the primary caregiver to my grandparents, my mom realized there were older adults in similar circumstances. It has been her mission for over one year now, to support vulnerable individuals within the greater Toronto area. Buddy Services support workers take notes when they attend doctors’ appoints with clients and relay all information to family members.  Beyond a transportation service, Buddy Services, builds, nurtures and maintains relationships with clients, community organizations and healthcare practitioners.

Growing old is natural, as is the need for social interaction. As the baby boomer age, it is essential not to forget a whole generation.  Life can get busy, and we may not have time to visit our older family members, but we do need to ensure their lives include meaningful engagement. This is how we combat social isolation.

For more information about Ekklesia Hub’s buddy service, please call or email (fill phone number and email address)  

Written by: Kezia Royer Burkett a creative freelance writer with a degree in communications and multimedia from McMaster University. When she is not writing she is finding inspiration living life, raising her son and spending time with friends and family. 

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To Mom With Love

My Mom was and still is the quiet type. Her thoughts were never expressed, they were hers and hers alone, and never to be shared with anyone, not even with her husband.  It always bothered me why my Mom was a woman of few words. I wondered if she thought that her opinion didn’t matter or was it instilled in her that women ought to be silent.  She never complained about anything; she was always content; she avoided contentious issues, never argued with anyone, and got along well with most. 

I told you that my Mom was never one to complain, nor shared her thoughts or talked about any pain or discomfort she was feeling except for this one thing.  I do remember my mom saying on more than one occasion, “I’m having trouble walking straight.”  She said it in such a nonchalant manner and tone that no one, not even I, took the time to respond to her cry, until “The Fall.”

After the fall in December of 2017, my Mom was diagnosed with neurosyphilis.  I’ve heard the word syphilis before but not neurosyphilis. I had no idea what it was.  The doctor told me and my father that it is an infection of the nervous system, specifically of the brain and the spinal cord.  There are different types of neurosyphilis and their symptoms vary depending on the type.  Symptoms of neurosyphilis are the weakening of the muscles, trouble balancing, loss of coordination and an altered walk.  The hardening of the arteries in the brain is known to contribute and progress to dementia.  After receiving detailed information from the doctor, my family and I were able to conclude the symptoms of neurosyphilis were what my Mom was referring to when she complained that she was unable to walk straight.

I cannot turn back the clock; I know that but oh, how I wish I could.  If I had the opportunity to turn back the hands of time, I would have paid closer attention to my Mom’s silent suffering; I should have insisted that she see a doctor, I should have been there for her – but I wasn’t.  Dementia has taken a whole of my Mom’s mind and robbed her of her ability to think, her short-term memory, and left her in utter silence and lacking any form of motivation. 

I visit my Mom almost daily in hopes of redeeming the time or making the most of every opportunity, but instead, she sits in her favorite chair, staring into the abyss. Silence and stillness have become her only companions.  I try to engage her by asking, “Do you want to watch TV, Mom?” She replied, “No”.  “Wanna play a game?”, the answer is the same, “No”. “What would you like to do, Mom?”, “Nothing”, she says.  So I sit with her in solitude, silently sending her my love and wishing that she would desire to want to do more with the end days of her life. But, solitude is what she wants.  She is my Mom and I love her dearly.

Many thanks to Andrea Fickert from the Alzheimer Society Peel, Andrea has been a rock to my family in these difficult times.

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Alzheimer’s Awareness

Dementia is affecting the lives of one in four Canadians daily. January is Alzheimer’s awareness month, and the Greater Toronto Area is filled with walks, workshops, activities, and tons of cool events, spreading awareness about Alzheimer’s. Our Buddy Services supports the elderly community and those living with Alzheimer’s, live with dignity and respect. We encourage the elderly population, the terminally ill, and persons with dementia to engage in the community and discover a new lease on life.

To contribute to spreading awareness, we have created a list of events, workshops, and resources taking place this month in the Greater Toronto Area. Buddy Services is here to support you, a family member or friend attend any of these events in the city.

We look forward to working with you and supporting our community through our services.

Active Minds Social Club
January 13, @ 9:00 am – 4:00 pm EST
Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities

Dementia 101
January 14, @ 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM EST
Humberwood Library

Finding Joy and Humour in Dementia Care
January 16, @ 10:00 am – 12:00 pm EST
North York Seniors Centre

First Steps
January 17, @ 8:30 – 12:00 pm
Recurring Events (See all) at Alzheimer Societ;y of Hamilton Halton-Hamilton Office

Living Well with Dementia
January 17th, @ 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church

Recreation For Dementia
January 21, @ 9:30 – 12:30 pm at Burlington Public Library

Alzheimer Awareness Workshop
January 25, @ 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM EST
Milton Seniors Activity Centre

Alzheimer Awareness Workshop
January 29, @ 5:00 PM – 7:30 PM EST
Indus Community Services
306 – 3038 Hurontario Street

Frailty, Aging and Dementia: Considerations for the Dementia Journey
January 30, @ 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM EST
The Jubilee Banquet Hall and Conference Centre

Alzheimer Society York Region – Caregivers Support Group
February 5, @ 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM EST
Markham Village Library

Written by: Kezia Royer Burkett a creative freelance writer with a degree in communications and multimedia from McMaster University. When she is not writing she is finding inspiration living life, raising her son and spending time with friends and family.