“A good day is when no one shows up and you don’t have to go anywhere.”
That’s a quote from Burt Shavitz, founder of the company Burt’s Bees. For many, that’s the dream — to be alone, to be without responsibility, and without expectation.
But what if that is your default? What if each and every day, no matter your desire, no one shows up and you don’t have anywhere to go, or even a way to get there.
This is isolation, this is loneliness, and this is a plague that is hurting the older adult population faster than injury or age ever could.
According to a report on the social isolation of seniors published in 2014, older adults who are unable to be a part of their community, to feel as though they are contributing, are not only at risk of negative health behaviours such as drinking, smoking, a sedentary lifestyle and even eating poorly, but are more likely to fall, much more likely to be hospitalized, and research is showing that isolation is a predictor for coronary heart disease.
Isolation also puts them at risk for elder abuse, financial abuse, and even the ravages of fear itself. Those who have disabilities or existing health issues fare even worse.
And then there are the effects on mental health. Social isolation is associated with depression, anxiety, and worst of all, suicide. In fact, while there are some conflicting numbers, studies are showing that older adults — and in particular, older men — are among the highest suicide rates among all age groups.
This is an issue that must be overcome if society is ever to reign in health costs, to support our aging population, and more importantly, to learn and benefit from the wealth of knowledge and experience older adults possess. Their contribution to communities is essential, and they require support in order to overcome isolation and its effects on their health and wellbeing.
Parkside Older Adult Centre does their best to support the senior community in Sudbury, and their latest effort to combat social isolation is the Parkside Centre Without Walls program.
One of the biggest obstacles to overcoming isolation is mobility. Many seniors are living with chronic conditions, disabilities and even age-related difficulties that make it impossible to venture out — especially in a geographically expansive area like Sudbury and Northeastern Ontario.
Another is the push to digitize, to take everything we do online. There are a great many ways to interact with others on social media, but research is beginning to show that not only do those types of abstract interactions do not offer the benefits of socializing with others. According to a small 2018 study at the University of Pennsylvania and published in the U.S.-based Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, limiting social media use to less than 30 minutes per day lessened the participants anxiety and depression.
In addition to this, the internet and its offerings are completely inaccessible to those without a computer, or experience using one.
But the telephone exists, despite the current inclination to avoid it. Parkside Centre Without Walls is taking advantage of this well-used and helpful technology to set up a sort of conference call. Each week, at a scheduled time, participants call in from wherever they are, and depending on the day, the topic includes current events, sports, as well as an advisory group call regarding programming. And all of these calls are also offered in French.
John Richer, manager of the Parkside Older Adult Centre, says he got the idea from his attendance at a conference.
“I first heard about the Seniors Centre Without Walls program at an Older Adult Centres Association of Ontario conference in 2015,” he said. “An employee of The Good Companions Centre in Ottawa was talking about the positive impact the program had on participants and I knew immediately that the program would be perfect for the City of Greater Sudbury, especially considering it is one of the largest municipalities in terms of land size and one of the smallest in terms of population density.”
The centre began a partnership with The Good Companions Seniors’ Centre and launched their program this year.
“We had modest expectations when we started the program due to the fact that we were relying almost completely on the availability of volunteers to run the phone calls,” said Richer. “To date, we have had great success.”
The program is open to anyone 55 and older (and/or adults with physical disabilities who are over the age of 18) living in Northeastern Ontario. In order to register, a simple phone call is all that is needed. There is no cost to participate, and you do not need to be a Parkside member. In fact, if the participant has difficulty calling in to the toll-free number and uniting with the call moderator, Parkside Centre Without Walls is willing to call the participant directly to get them set up.
It is not just the need to interact with others, to alleviate the sense of loneliness that is benefitted from an interaction such as the one offered at the Parkside Older Adults’ Centre, but to increase the ability to recover from illness, to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and to avoid some of the greatest mental health struggles the greatest generation is facing.
Coping is made by our Community Leaders Program.