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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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