Only the lonely: social isolation in seniors, and how to overcome it

Loneliness can be a major issue for seniors, especially if they are living alone, have limited mobility, and/or chronic health issues. Even with the benefits of modern technology, they may spend days at home without meaningful contact with anyone. That in turn can lead to further health issues, both mental and physical.

Is there a difference between social isolation and loneliness?

Employment and Social Development Canada defines social isolation as:

“A situation in which someone has infrequent and/or poor-quality contact with other people”.

In reality that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Socially isolated people of any age have few social contacts outside of family, have reduced or no social roles, few or no mutually rewarding relationships, and limited opportunities for contact with others.

    • Social isolation is quantitative and you can measure it – how many people have you seen today? How many have you spoken to?
    • Loneliness is the feeling you get of being alone – and as we have probably all experienced at some stage, you can feel alone even in a crowded room.
Social isolation and health

The health implications of social isolation have long been understood. Back in 1988, researchers James S House, Karl R. Landis and Debra Umberson reported that:

“Social relationships, or the relative lack thereof, constitute a major risk factor for health, rivalling the effects of well-established health risk factors such as smoking, blood pressure blood lipids, obesity and physical activity.”

At the (admittedly) extreme end of the scale, a study into prisoners in solitary confinement in Canadian penitentiaries suffered:

“Numerous negative physical and mental side effects, including hypersensitivity, paranoia, hallucinations, anxiety and panic attacks, mood disturbances such as extreme anger and depression, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, self-harm and suicide.”

As that study asked: “Is this acceptable practice or is this torture?”

Risk factors of social isolation amongst seniors

The National Seniors Council’s Report on the Social Isolation of Seniors identified factors that raised the risk of seniors becoming isolated. These included:

    • living alone, especially after the death of a spouse
    • aged 80 or over
    • having chronic health problems
    • less education
    • no children and/or no contact with family
    • no access to public transport / unable to drive anymore
    • low income
    • geographical location (e.g. urban, rural and remote)
    • being a caregiver to another senior
There is a solution – and it’s just a phone call away!

Before we all get too depressed, there is a simple solution for social isolation and loneliness: companionship. Many seniors living alone have lost their lifelong partner or spouse, and miss that in-person companionship. It can be as simple as a discussion of the latest news, keeping up to date with recent events in their neighbourhood, or just a person to help with the crossword clues.

That’s why at Vytality at Home, we don’t just provide personal care. We provide total home care. We ensure a named, regular caregiver comes as often as you require, so you see the same face who soon become a friend too. If you or your loved one is lonely due to lack of social contact, our visits can brighten your day with a cheery smile, a little help around the house, a good chat, and time for some some favourite activities too.

This 1-to-1 time is what elevates our home care from that provided by other Calgary home care companies. Our caregivers never just dash in, do the necessaries, and dash out again. Our 2 hour care visits include time for jobs that need doing – personal care, preparing a meal, laundry, light housekeeping – AND quality one to one time for favourite activities. We can also arrange transport to social activities, and accompany seniors or those requiring our care to appointments, special events or even just out for a coffee at a local coffee shop.

Speaking your language

A report by the Government of Canada pointed to the issues of social isolation amongst immigrant and refugee seniors. These seniors may have moved to Canada to be with their children and grandchildren, but struggle to learn the language, cope with the climate, understand the culture or integrate into social groups. More than 70% of Canadian immigrants don’t speak English or French as their mother tongue.

Again, this is where we here at Vytality at Home can help. Once we’ve met you or your loved one and done an assessment, our team will match your requirements with a choice of caregivers – and that includes languages. Whilst we can’t guarantee we have a caregiver who can speak every language (we’re not that large a home care business!), we will always do our best and usually find a solution.

Reducing the five dimensions of social isolation

A report by Keefe and others recognised five dimensions of vulnerability to social isolation:

    • Support for instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs)
    • Emotional support
    • Engagement in physical leisure activities
    • Mastery and sense of life control
    • Home living situation

At Vytality at Home, we help in all these five dimension as part of our home care provision. Here’s how:

    • Support for instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs)

We help in areas you need it most, including personal care, toileting, bathing, dressing and more. We can also help with washing, cooking and light housekeeping. In other words, all the things you sued to do, but can’t manage to do easily anymore.

    • Emotional support

This is key for all our caregivers. They genuinely care for our clients, and it shows. The can also help seniors access emotional support from their own families, through regular in-visit calls and video conferencing via the Vytality at Home app.

    • Engagement in physical leisure activities

When we first visit you in your home, we conduct a detailed assessment that becomes the core of your personalised home care plan. If that needs to include physical exercise, we can help, from gentle exercise routines as suggested by a physiotherapist to organising taxis to your favourite golf club!

    • Mastery and sense of life control

This is one of our key principles – it’s you home, your care. Our Vytality at Home app puts you in complete control of your own care. You can rearrange visits, increase your level of care, rate your caregiver, and even pay for your care, all from the comfort of your own home! Family can also message and talk to your caregiver during their visits, for transparency and openness in your care provision – and peace of mind for them!

    • Home living situation

As we age our homes might need extra additions and features to help us Age in Place. At Vytality at Home, we partner with a whole host of trades who specialise in senior home modifications, from grab rails and door ramps to walk-in showers and widened doors. We’ve vetted al our partners and negotiated special rates, so you get the work you need done by a qualified, experienced tradesperson at highly competitive rates.

You can help too!

You can help combat loneliness and social isolation with simple actions that cost you nothing but a few moments of your time. Why not befriend a local senior and offer them new opportunities for social interaction. You might:

    • Ask them to Sunday lunch or a midweek dinner
    • Pop in for a chat or talk over the fence!
    • Offer a lift to church or clubs
    • Invite them to your next family BBQ
    • Offer to do a little gardening or grocery shopping for them

For more information on our innovative range of home care services in Calgary, or to discuss your specific requirements,:

We look forward to hearing from you!

539, 5940 Macleod Trail SWCalgary, AB