British Columbia

Christmas loneliness an issue for seniors, say advocates

Seniors advocacy organizations are reminding people to take time out of their busy holiday schedules to visit seniors in their homes.

Over a fifth of seniors say they want more social interaction, according to Statistics Canada

Rosalie Wessels says she'll be spending Christmas in Vancouver this year because she isn't in good enough health to travel to see her kids. (CBC)

Seniors' advocacy organizations are reminding people to take time out of their busy holiday schedules to visit seniors in their homes. 

Spending as little as an hour with a senior living alone or in care over Christmas can help mitigate serious health effects caused by loneliness and social isolation, says the B.C. Care Providers Association.

"This is truly a special time of the year for so many people," said CEO Daniel Fontaine in a written statement.

"But research has shown it can also be a lonely time too — especially for seniors. That's why it's so important if you have a loved one living in a care home or receiving care at home, you set aside some time to visit them over the holidays."

The organization said social isolation and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of mortality for people 52 and older — a problem it said is likely to get worse with an aging population. 

A Statistics Canada report based on findings from 2008 to 2009 found that more than one-fifth of seniors wanted to be more involved in social activities.

Seniors living alone

"It's not like it was in the old days where your neighbour would kind of watch out for you," said Andrea Cox, a community support manager at the Seniors Come Share Society.

"It's more like you're in an apartment building with 160 other people who don't know you and don't really make an effort to know you." 

Andrea Cox with the Seniors Come Share Society says even just spending an hour a week with seniors can make a big difference in their lives. (CBC)

To help assuage that social isolation, the Seniors Come Share Society offers day and community outreach programs for seniors. 

On the menu on Monday: a spa day. It's a source of companionship for those who attend, especially if they can't be with family or friends for Christmas.

"I'm not going anywhere for Christmas this year," said Rosalie Wessels, a senior who participated in the event. 

"I usually go down to my son in Phoenix or my grandson in California but this year I'm not able to. I'm too unsteady." 

Cox said challenges with physical mobility can makes matters worse for seniors. 

"If you're 94 and you're using a walker, you're not going to hop on to a bus to get out into the community," she said. 

She agreed that even a short visit with a senior living alone can help.

"If you can give an hour a week, that is going to make a lot of difference," said Cox.

With files from Jesse Johnston


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