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Seniors Isolation and Loneliness Project

by Lindsay.Demerchant

Every year the Constituency Office hosts third-year social work students from the St. Thomas University (STU) School of Social Work. This year Emma Connors, Grace Steeves, and MacKenzie MacLeod, are working together to create programs to help combat seniors’ isolation and loneliness in Fredericton. Our population is aging, and the proportion of the population 65 years and older in New Brunswick is growing, so this is an important issue that will face more of us as time goes on. Following is a summary of their learnings and work.

STU researcher Lyne Ouellet describes social isolation and loneliness as something that is experienced by individuals but must be addressed as a community challenge emphasizing connection within the community. Ouellet distinguishes social isolation from loneliness. Social isolation is an objective measure of the number of quality social connections one has whereas loneliness is the subjective, negative feelings one experiences due to the number of social and personal connections and contacts an individual has (Ouellet, 2021).

Additionally, research has found that “both social isolation and loneliness are risk factors for poor health. They have been associated with an increased risk of dementia, of cardiovascular disease, and of mortality. Conversely, those with better social relationships in older age have a 50% increased chance of survival, are more likely to follow through on medical recommendations and have fewer hospitalizations” (Ouellet, 2021).

Another report on social isolation by Lyne Ouellet (2021), “Social Isolation and Loneliness: A Comprehensive look at the issue facing some seniors in Fredericton” summarized senior loneliness in the Fredericton area. This insightful report inspired us to brainstorm ideas to help seniors connect with community supports and nurture adaptability (Ouellet, 2021).

This report also had us thinking about groups vs. one-on-one formats, leisure activities, and intergenerational connections (Ouellet, 2021), which led to our idea to connect local schools and long-term care facilities. As Ouellet puts it, “These programs have been shown to improve older adults’ cognitive and physical well-being and improve children’s perceptions and attitudes towards the elderly, thus building empathy and respect across generations” (Ouellet, 2021).

As part of our placement, we are collaborating with the Third Age Centre, who are starting a pilot project that pairs STU students with York Care Centre residents. We plan to visit the residents weekly to have meaningful conversations and learn more about their lives. The goal is to offer a safe place for the residents to feel heard and connected. It also encourages volunteers to think about how we can work as a community to connect with seniors through various types of targeted programs.

Examples of targeted programs in the community to address social isolation and loneliness are Meals on Wheels and Adopt a Grandparent/Elder. These programs aim to facilitate intergenerational connections and enhance the quality of life of aging community members. It is also important to note that anyone can advocate for our aging community members, and small individual acts of kindness have a huge collective impact. One creative example of getting involved is volunteering to shovel a senior’s walkway after a heavy snowfall. Addressing social isolation and loneliness is not an individual problem and should be approached as a social challenge with connection as the central focus. Community is connection, and it is the responsibility of all of us to assist our aging population and care for one another.

If you are interested in helping to combat seniors’ isolation and loneliness, you can volunteer at local long-term care facilities, and programs such as Meals on Wheels and Adopt a Grandparent/Elder.

Meals on Wheels: volunteer@frederictonmealsonwheels.ca 

York Care Centre:sseymour@yorkcarecentre.ca

Shannex, Neill Hall: scondran@shannex.com

Adopt a Grandparent/Elder:  paceypenny@gmail.com