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Recognizing social isolation in our parents and grandparents

Maintaining social connections is one of the most important things you can do to support your overall health and well-being. Social connections are especially important for our parents, grandparents and other older adults because the impacts of chronic isolation and loneliness tend to be more serious in older adults. 

Research shows that these impacts include depression, cognitive decline, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, a decreased quality of life and an increased risk of premature death. Around 30 percent of Canadian seniors were already at risk of becoming socially isolated before the COVID-19 pandemic and there’s no denying that the pandemic has made social connections even more challenging.

Are social isolation and loneliness the same thing?

Understanding social isolation and loneliness is an important first step towards protecting older adults. Social isolation is having no one or few people to interact with regularly, while loneliness is the distressing feeling of being alone or separated. You can feel lonely around other people, and you can live alone and not feel lonely or socially isolated. It’s important to recognize someone’s individual experience as it can vary.

How do you know if someone you care about is at risk of social isolation?

Older adults are at a higher risk for social isolation due to changes in health and social connections that are common to aging, like hearing and vision deterioration, memory loss, disability, challenges getting around and/or the loss of family and friends. The risk of social isolation is even higher in older adults who:

  • Find it difficult to/are unable to leave home.
  • Have had a major loss or life change, such as the death of a spouse or partner or retirement.
  • Struggle with money.
  • Are caregivers.
  • Have psychological or cognitive challenges.
  • Have limited social support.
  • Live in a rural, unsafe, and/or hard-to-reach neighborhood.
  • Have language barriers.
  • Are not meaningfully engaged in activities or feel a lack of purpose.
  • Face education, age, racial, ethnic, sexual orientation and/or gender identity barriers.

How can you help? 

Making social connections and accessing community supports can help someone who may be struggling with social isolation. The Age-Friendly Calgary Social Isolation Awareness Campaign has tried to make it easier to know where to start. As a collaboration between The City of Calgary and community partners, the awareness campaign aims to educate Calgarians about the impacts of social isolation and brings together information on the calgary.ca/stayconnected webpage. The webpage contains information about ongoing opportunities and support available in Calgary, opportunities to make new connections, grow your social network, and see how you can support others.

Everyone can get involved, volunteer to provide support, and begin making connections, because becoming part of someone’s network is mutually beneficial. Calgary’s older adults are an incredibly diverse group with a lot to offer, including their life experience and perspective. 

Here are some ideas for making connections to get you started:

  • Be kind: choose an act of kindness and make it happen today!
  • Stay active: being physically active is a way for older adults to feel good and connect.
  • Volunteer: giving back provides chances to connect with others in a meaningful way.
  • Converse: start a conversation around shared interests to spark new friendships.
  • Learn: take a class or learn a new hobby to meet people with common passions.
  • Create: create something with red yarn and let us know with #stayconnectedyyc.

By visiting the awareness campaign webpage (calgary.ca/stayconnected), you can read stories about older adults making connections through the pandemic, learn about ways to raise awareness and how to get involved. There’s also information about various activities from partnering organizations such as programs, clubs and sessions that facilitate social connection. These include weekly workout programs that can be done virtually with family and friends, or in person; walking clubs; buddy and pen pal programs; volunteer opportunities; discussion groups; and special interest classes like art, language, communication and gardening. 

Visit calgary.ca/stayconnected for more details on activities, resources and organizations who support older adults.

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