Making the Move: Overcoming loneliness and isolation involves making that first move

Matt Del Vecchio

I was recently with a family discussing senior living options. During the course of our conversation, the mother looked at her daughter and said “I’m just too lonely at home”.

I hear that a lot when meeting with families. It’s no surprise, particularly this time of year as winter approaches and the days are shorter. The statistics are quite shocking. One in four seniors lives alone according to Stats Canada. The figures are even more alarming for women — 37% of women 65+ live alone. This figure jumps to 54% for those 80+!

Some of the known health effects of loneliness and isolation include a decrease in overall health and well being; increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide; and premature aging. Lonely people tend to consume more alcohol and get less exercise. Scientists have even compared the effects of loneliness as the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

How to cope with loneliness

Recognition. This is perhaps one of the toughest aspects of coping with loneliness. Denial is common. Once loneliness is recognized and accepted, you can take proactive measures to effectively deal with it.

Increased socialization. What’s your passion? What puts a smile on your face? There are many ways to become more social. Simply dial 211 or look it up online and you will find 282 groups and associations for seniors in greater Montreal. There are many interesting venues such as art, drama, exercise, yoga, photography, music, travel groups, book clubs, religious or spiritual groups, many in senior centres. Have you considered the Cummings Centre, Contactivity in Westmount, New Hope in NDG or the Côte St. Luc Mens’ Club? The list goes on and on. Try looking up senior groups in The Senior Times Resource Directory and give the group of your choice a call. You may want to choose by ethnicity or by the kind of activities they offer. Some are bigger, like Cummings Centre, some smaller like the Creative Social Center, which offers art and music courses. Both welcome seniors of every ethnicity. You may also choose a group that’s close to where you live so if you live in Westmount, you might want to try Contactivity.

Volunteering. This has the double benefit of reducing loneliness while receiving the gratification of giving back to those who will benefit from your time and effort.

Having close friends. Do you have a couple of friends whom you could open up to? Could you meet them for dinner or plan a short trip together?

Consider living in a retirement residence. One of the biggest reasons they are popular is a sense of community you get. Many offer activities, a variety of meal plans, and some even offer pools and gyms.

Family. Now is the time to reach out to family members. Grab a coffee, reminisce, play cards, or simply be there for your loved one. If you can’t be there in person, take advantage of technology. It’s not uncommon to see grandchildren setting up devices for their grandparents so that they can communicate via Facetime and Skype.

Getting help when faced with the loss of a loved one. Know that there are groups that will help you grieve and organizations that address this kind of profound loss. Reach out to close friends and family.

We should all make an effort to reach out to those experiencing loneliness and isolation. My wife and I felt we could make a small difference by organizing a fun and heartwarming initiative last month. It was called “Hug A Senior Day Caravan.” The results surpassed our wildest dreams. We had a total of 107 “Volunteer Huggers” over a two-day period.

We traveled by school bus and we visited 11 senior residences. We gave out 7,837 hugs and high fives. There were tears of joy and smiles from ear to ear. Based on the feedback, it looks like we’ll make this an annual event!

Matt Del Vecchio owns Lianas Services Senior Transition Support and hosts “Life Unrehearsed” on CJAD800 every Sunday at 4pm.

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