Social interactions play an important role in health and welfare
Seniors are the fastest growing demographic. By 2041, an estimated third of Edmontonians will be seniors. Although the expectation of being a senior is living the golden years, filled with family, friends, travel, and relaxation, this is not the case for many people.
Research shows that roughly 30 per cent of seniors are at risk for social isolation, defined as a lack of meaningful interactions with society. Social isolation can lead to a plethora of health concerns. The National Seniors Council reports that socially isolated seniors have an increased risk of depression, social anxiety, and schizophrenia. Isolation increases rates of alcoholism, smoking, sedentary lifestyles, and increases the chance of hospitalization by a factor of five.
Retirement, death of a spouse, disability, and illness are major causes of isolation for seniors. Seniors who are low income, Indigenous, LGBT, immigrants, and caregivers are at an increased risk. Ageism is also a large factor.
“I was making spaghetti…I couldn’t open this jar and had nobody to ask for help,” recounts Bernadette Alseth, a low-income senior living in the Alberta Avenue area. After experiencing four deaths in three years, she found herself becoming isolated. “I thought ‘Wow! I’m in trouble here.’ ”
Joy Dyck began feeling isolated after a hospitalization in 2011 that left her without her long-term memory. She talks about losing many of her relationships and the social anxiety that made her hesitant to leave her house.
“Loss is loss and it changes your world,” Dyck says, referring to the many kinds of loss seniors experience: loss of a spouse, loss of mobility, loss of independence. “There’s so much stigma to the word senior.”
Both Alseth and Dyck agree that the term senior carries a stigma that isn’t representative of most seniors. This stigma can further isolate an already at-risk group. They both prefer the term elder, a word which denotes someone with wisdom and experience to impart.
A significant concern is a lack of resources easily accessible to elders in the area. This problem led Alseth to create the Coffee Friendship Club, a group for people over 55 who meet once a week to enjoy each other’s company. Alseth stresses that they don’t talk about their walkers or ailments. Instead, topics range from politics to books to music and can get quite lively. Dyck credits the club with helping her overcome some of her social anxiety in a safe and welcoming place.
Rusti Lehay facilitates Avenue Word Adventuring, The Carrot’s writing group. Most of the members are over 55, and they gather once a month to share their writing. One elder member uses the group as an outlet to help them cope with their role as caregiver to their spouse with Alzheimer’s.
“If people are given an excuse to get out of the house, they will,” says Lehay, which is why she assigns homework for the members to keep them motivated to return.
Public libraries offer a wide range of low cost or no cost activities and learning opportunities for elders. Sprucewood library in particular offers an outreach worker who can help connect elders to the resources they need.
The easiest way to prevent isolation is to connect with elders in your community. Stay in touch, visit, and value their contributions to society. Elders have so much to offer.
Friendship Coffee Club
The Carrot Coffeehouse (9351 118 Ave)
Wednesdays, 1 pm
The Carrot writing group (Avenue Word Adventuring)
The Carrot Coffeehouse
Third Thursday each month
11555 95 St
Featured Image: The Coffee Friendship Club is a great way for people over 55 to connect. | Supplied