Reducing social isolation
By Jenn Watt
Joy was easy to read on Jackie Metcalf’s face last month when she stood in front of a room of people at the Haliburton Highlands Museum to talk about her experience with the Family Roots pilot project. Through the SIRCH Community Services-run initiative, which matches seniors with volunteers trained in genealogy, Metcalf had been paired with Maureen Blakelock and together they looked into Metcalf’s ancestors on the Simpson side of the family.
They found nothing scandalous, nothing earth-shattering, but Metcalf was nonetheless glowing as she recounted the hours she spent with her new friend.
The project, funded through a New Horizons for Seniors grant, did help seniors learn more about their family trees and it did provide insights into the history of the people in the Haliburton Highlands, but more than that, it brought people together and clearly helped to reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
Social isolation can be a problem for any of us, but according to Canadian statistics, it’s more prevalent for older adults. Life events such as the death of a spouse, retirement, health issues, or a change in dwelling can all contribute to isolation and loneliness, which can then lead to other problems.
The Report on the Social Isolation of Seniors indicates that isolation can bring with it a loss of social skills; risk of elder abuse; increased probability of poor health behaviours such as drinking and smoking, not eating well, a sedentary lifestyle; and can intensify mental health issues such as depression.
“According to research, one in four seniors lives with a mental health problem (e.g. depression, anxiety or dementia) or illness, and 10 to 15 per cent of adults 65 years or older and living in the community suffer from depression. The percentage of seniors in residential care who have been diagnosed with depression or showed symptoms of depression without diagnosis is higher at 44 per cent,” the report states.
It’s clearly important therefore that we work to address social isolation with a focus on the senior population, which is why projects like Family Roots are so necessary.
In Haliburton County we have many programs that are targeting this issue. From the Diners’ Club that offers a time for older adults to get together over a meal, to friendly visiting, to bingo night at the Legion, to drop-in programs, the list goes on. That said, no one program will be everything to everyone and the more concerted effort we put in to connecting seniors to members of the community, the better.
While loneliness and isolation is lessened for the seniors thanks to these efforts, the wider community also benefits from their participation, input and perspective.