Senior loneliness and isolation are important issues affecting our community. Both threaten older adults’ independence, and can create health risks as significant as obesity, smoking or alcoholism.
What may be surprising is that loneliness and isolation are not synonymous.
“You can be surrounded by lots of people and still be lonely or you can be by yourself and not feel isolated. It’s really about ensuring that the most vulnerable in our communities have access to programs and services that keep us active, connected and engaged,” says Kahir Lalji, Provincial Director, Population Health at United Way of the Lower Mainland.
A McMaster University study defines isolation as a state that arises from having too few or no social relationships. In contrast, loneliness is the subjective perception of having insufficient social relationships or not enough contact with people. It’s possible for seniors to be isolated and not feel lonely (and vice versa).
Lalji addressed the subject at the Canadian Association of Retired Person’s (CARP) National Preventive Health & Aging Education Series in downtown Vancouver, April 15.
The cross-country ‘conversation’ kicked off Monday and is designed to highlight challenges and innovations in the field of preventive health. The series, which is supported by United Way, has stops in Halifax, Toronto, Moncton, Winnipeg and Calgary.
“We’re going across the country bringing the best minds, the best research and the best community-engaged organizations together with older adults to find out what it is that we know already and are not putting into practice in terms of preventative health and what is it we don’t know and need to put our focus to,” says Laura Tamblyn Watts, Chief Public Policy Officer at CARP.
Loneliness was just one of the subjects expert speakers focused on during the day-long event. Other topics included physical and social engagement, relationships and inclusion and how the experiences of marginalization can impact seniors’ health.
Bringing seniors together from across BC provides a meaningful—and mutual—learning experience for everyone.
“More people are living into old age and more people are living longer in old age. Those people have a lot to teach one another,” says UBC Sociology Professor Anne Martin-Matthews who gave the day’s keynote speech on health and aging.
“I’ve been doing research on aging for 40 years and until the 1990s there wasn’t too much recognition of the role of older people themselves and what they had to offer.”
As Baby Boomers are aging, Martin-Matthews’ is seeing that changing. “They’re helping to transform how you address issues of aging and engaging people in that process themselves.”
“It’s incredibly important for older adults to guide our discussions on aging. Our work with Healthy Aging by United Way is based on this. We’re proud to be leaders in community engagement in this way,” says Lalji.
Along with United Way of the Lower Mainland, this educational series is presented with support from Simon Fraser University, AGEWELL, NICE Network, Sanofi, GSK, and others.