By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman
Next week, special events and activities will take place to mark the fourth annual Let No One Be Alone week. Started in 2011 by Brenda Tonn, the resource coordinator for Plumas Senior Support Services, the province-wide initiative aims to help those who live alone or who are isolated.
Between May 3 and 9, Manitobans are encouraged to get in touch with family and friends who may be lonely or isolated. While mostly aimed at helping older Manitobans who find themselves alone, the event reminds us to reach out to all Manitobans who may be suffering from loneliness.
Since its inception, the event has garnered the support of many municipal councils as well as seniors’ resource centres. Across the region, many groups will be hosting special activities, such as meals, to ensure that no one feels alone.
Beyond organized events, Manitobans are encouraged to reach out, be it with a phone call or card, hosting an event for those who live alone, taking someone out for coffee or lunch or offering to run an errand. Manitobans of all ages are encouraged to participate, to bring together young and old.
In total, 15.7 per cent of Canada’s population is over 65 years of age and loneliness can be a real problem among those whose family situation, health or mobility makes it harder for them to get out. Feelings of loneliness can be common for many older Canadians and decreasing these feelings can have a positive health impact. Research has shown that social isolation puts seniors at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia and illness due to reduced immunity. Research out of Ireland found that loneliness among older adults can cause the equivalent health damage as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
According to the Profile of Manitoba Seniors, published in 2010, 35.9 per cent of older Manitobans reported feelings of loneliness. They often feel a general sense of emptiness, do not have people that they feel close to, miss having people around and often feel rejected. Manitobans over 75 were more likely to report feelings of loneliness than those between 65 and 74 years of age. Women were slightly more likely to report feelings of loneliness than men.
Information compiled by the Global Social Initiative on Ageing looked at the predictors of loneliness in older Canadians. The results show that certain characteristics, such as health, change in marital status, changes in finances or life circumstances, lower levels of education, number of relatives, contact with friends, number of organizations and overall life satisfaction are predictors of loneliness. It turns out that age, never being married, home ownership, contact with relatives, number of friends and religious attendance aren’t predictors of loneliness. The study also found that immigrants were more likely to be lonely, most likely due to a larger physical separation from family and friends as well as language barriers.
We all know someone who could use a friendly call or visit. Whether simple or elaborate, next week, let no one be alone.