Seniors Social Connectedness: A Chat a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Jun. 6, 2015 in Articles

“Feeling alone and being lonely are things all of us have experienced. Yet there is a kind of loneliness that cuts even deeper than feeling alone. Social isolation.” says Kim Samuel, President of the Samuel Family Foundation, “…the lack of meaningful relationships and human contact and connections is a devastating affliction, with impacts ranging from depression to accelerated aging and the risk of early death.”

Social isolation and loneliness are prevalent across all ages, but is more common amongst older adults[1], which can have a strong impact on one’s quality-of-life. Older adults are more vulnerable to become isolated or lonely when they lose a partner or friends, experience a negative health ailment, leave the workforce, or move to a new community (among other events).  

Having weak social connections is as harmful for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse for our health than being obese.

We constantly hear that physical activity and eating a balanced diet are essential to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but a daily dose of social connectedness is being recognized more than ever as an integral factor for positive personal well-being.

Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad and her team analyzed data of more than three million people from studies that included information on loneliness, social isolation and living alone. This research found that these three factors increased a person's risk of premature death by 26%, 29% and 32%, respectively.

"The effect of this is comparable to obesity, something that public health takes very seriously," Holt-Lunstad said, "We need to start taking our social relationships more seriously."

Here are some examples of innovative projects and programs to improve social connectedness amongst older adults:

  • Pets for the Elderly: Pets offer affection, unconditional love, fight loneliness, and can help ease the loss of a loved one. Find out how Pets for the Elderly pairs older adults with pet companions.
  • South Vancouver Seniors Peer Support: Compassionate seniors provide companion supports to seniors who are homebound in South Vancouver. Check out their model here.
  • The Virtual Senior Center: Homebound seniors can take part in live classes, tour world-famous museums, chat with friends, and learn wellness tips all through virtual interactions. Learn how this program integrates technology and social interaction to improve seniors well-being.
  • The Province of BC also hosts a website www.seniorsbc.ca It is a place for all older adults in the province to find resources for planning and living a healthy and active lifestyle as they age.

If you are looking for funding to support a project to reduce or prevent isolation amongst seniors, visit the New Horizons for Seniors Program page for opportunities.

Find out more about how local governments can support social connectedness in communities on planh.ca.


[1] Tidy, Colin, (2013). Social Isolation - How to Help Patients be Less Lonely. Retrieved from:

 http://patient.info/doctor/social-isolation-how-to-help-patients-be-less-lonely

 

Credit: Michelle Sandsmark