They say that growing old is a privilege — and for those who are able to maintain their health, a sense of independence and an active network of friends and family, it can be a fulfilling and enjoyable stage in life. Unfortunately, the reality of aging also includes the passing of family and friends, the potential loss of independence and mobility, and/or the presence of serious health issues that can lead to feelings of loneliness and despair among the aging population.
While being alone may be considered a normal part of aging, the sadness and depression that often accompany chronic loneliness most certainly are not. How bad is the situation among older adults in Canada? Worse than you think.
Lonely Seniors at Risk of Depression
Evelyn Burns-Weinrib was 78 years old when she attempted suicide and belongs to the 65+ demographic who, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, have the highest suicide rate of any age group in Canada.
She recently shared her story in an article published by Baycrest Health Sciences: “When you get older, you face a lot of losses – the loss of your job due to forced retirement or it just disappears, the loss of family members and friends. You lose your physical health, have less money to live on, and you become more dependent on others. I’ve learned that these are all factors that can trigger depression in seniors.”
Evelyn’s story is one that is becoming all too familiar to families of aging adults across Canada. It is estimated that over 1.3 million seniors in Canada currently suffer from chronic loneliness. While the statistic includes seniors living alone both at home and in a facility or group home, according to the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA), the rate of seniors experiencing a depressive disorder that could result from loneliness is 30-40% more likely to occur in seniors living in institutions.
What Happens when Seniors are Lonely?
The repercussions of chronic loneliness are truly saddening. Most shocking may be the fact that lonely seniors are 59% more likely to decline, both physically and mentally, than their more social counterparts, according to Aging Care.
It’s not that healthcare staff, caregivers and family members don’t see what’s going on, it’s that often times, older adults feeling lonely or depressed, aren’t willing to ask for help. In fact, Mood Disorders Canada suggests that 90% of those afflicted with chronic loneliness don’t seek treatment, which indicates that thousands of seniors living in Canada are suffering in silence — and solitude.
What can we do to Keep Seniors Connected?
It’s no surprise that increased social interaction and support would help remedy the feelings of loneliness felt by so many seniors across Canada, however this in itself isn’t a quick fix. After all, joining a yoga class or meeting with friends is tough to do when your mobility is compromised, and even tougher when the number of friends you have start to decline.
What makes matters worse is that often times, the children of older adults living alone or in a nursing home are still working, or are busy raising their own family, and struggle to find the time to plan daily or even weekly visits.
So, as someone responsible for a lonely senior, what can you do? Seeking help from an organization like Closing the Gap Healthcare is a great place to start. Closing the gap provides tailored health services to Canadians, including meaningful visits to seniors experiencing chronic loneliness or feeling isolated from the rest of society.
If you’re looking to fill in the hours between visits, or are in search of a cost-effective alternative to home care, you might want to explore scheduled phone calls for seniors provided by Keeping Connected and our experienced, professional team of phone companions. We provide them with the care the need, and the companionship they deserve.
If you think that your loved one is lonely, here are some additional resources that show you what signs to look out for and how you can help: