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3 ways to reduce social isolation for seniors

Unison, for Generations 50+, knows the senior isolation statistics. That’s why we have so many Calgary seniors’ programs, to help our seniors connect in Calgary. Because we know that people need people.
We need each other. We’re a social species. We were not meant to be alone.

Isolation is hard on everyone, especially our seniors. COVID-19 may have put senior isolation in the spotlight and made the problem more immediate, but we’ve known for a long time how bad it is.
We know Canada’s population is aging and that our society needs to adapt and grow to the increasing number in seniors. According to the federal government, Canadian seniors make up around 15 per cent of the total population. But by 2036, this number is expected to increase to 25 per cent — one in four people.

Statistics tell us seniors are also at risk of becoming socially isolated — with 30 per cent in danger of losing the chance to be socially connected and active.
Isolation doesn’t just mean loneliness. There are serious costs associated with physical health and quality of life.

This includes an increased risk of dementia, poor mental health and depression, increased use of health and support services, worsening of chronic conditions and diseases and a greater risk for falls.
Loneliness is so dangerous to the health of our seniors, that one study found evidence that being socially isolated is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day — in terms of increasing one’s chances for an early death.

This is nothing to say of the mental health effects. We want our seniors to feel valued, needed and desired — because they are. If there aren’t opportunities and places where seniors can enjoy themselves, meet like-minded people, volunteer or connect meaningfully, it’s a failure of our society.
This is why Unison, for Generations 50+, is here to help.

Here are five ways organizations, seniors and individuals can help address isolation, all with examples that we here at Unison offer our community.

Active Aging Opportunities
We all know it’s much easier to socialize when it’s centered around an activity.
It doesn’t matter what the activity is: it could be painting, card games or a match of pickleball!
There are plenty of social clubs or groups that offer different events, but we’ve got everything you could possibly want!
Unison has incredible Active Aging programs with a variety of opportunities for seniors to get out and socialize, and maybe even try something new!

Making socializing accessible
It’s one thing to recommend going out and making connections. It’s another to actually figure out logistics, especially if someone has mobility issues.

Those with chronic pain, or who need a wheelchair or aid to walk, might have a lot more trouble getting out and about. This is a huge contributor to social isolation.

How do we help our isolated seniors when there are so many barriers? One thing we can do is bring the programming to them.

Our Active Aging team also offers a variety of online programming. There’s a chance to do physical activities, attend interesting presentations or watch relevant interviews, and so much more.
It might seem silly, but getting online can be just as helpful when it comes to keeping and maintaining our social connections.

Providing resources and community
It’s one thing to have an activity for seniors to give them an opportunity to socialize.
It’s another to give people a place to talk about what’s going on in their lives.

You might make a lot of friends playing pickleball or enjoying an art class, but it’s difficult to transfer that into a place where you can talk about heavier topics: life and death, grief and pain.

We need to provide places and opportunities where seniors can talk about the difficult things going on in their lives: whether that be support groups, meet-ups or chances to talk with professionals.

The Unison Wellness Connection Centre is one of these places. Anything from taking in a yoga class to de-stress to hosting grief groups, to support groups for grandparents who are raising children: it’s an important place so people can feel like they aren’t alone.

Because they aren’t.

No one is alone. It’s just our responsibility to make sure they never forget that.