Golden years? A growing demographic with growing challenges

June is Seniors’ Month in Ontario. Across the country, individuals aged 65 and over represent one of the fastest growing segments of our population. But with growth, comes challenges for many individuals in their so-called “golden years.”

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A  Statistics Canada survey revealed nearly 20% of seniors aged 65 or over felt left out, isolated from others, or that they lacked companionship.

Social isolation isn’t just about loneliness. It also touches many other areas of seniors’ lives, including active participation, healthy aging, care giving and transportation, according to research conducted by the Government of Canada’s National Seniors Council. Elderly individuals who are isolated are also more likely to experience depression and are more vulnerable to elder abuse.

The societal, economic and health consequences of seniors’ isolation are simply too large to ignore. By 2017—for the first time ever—there will be more Ontarians over 65-years-old than those under 15. The number of seniors in our province is also expected to more than double by 2036.

Tackling this important issue starts at home—and in the community. Last year, United Way Toronto & York Region invested more than $4.7 million in support for seniors in Toronto ranging from home visits and meals-on-wheels to community dining and fitness classes.

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It’s supports and services like these that we know play an important role in increasing the health and wellbeing of this vulnerable population. One example? Programming through Community & Home Assistance to Seniors (CHATS), a United Way agency that provides culturally-specific activities for seniors including exercise, dancing, games and much-needed socialization.

“I used to sit at home alone,” says Mohammad Hassan, 99, who accessed CHATS services after experiencing depression following his wife’s passing. “Now, I look forward to attending the program each week. It’s because of the friendships I’ve made here that I’m still alive.”

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Mohammad Hassan (front centre) with some of the friends he’s made at a cultural program for seniors.

Another way to stave off social isolation among seniors?  Engage them as active volunteers in their communities.  According to Volunteer Canada, seniors who volunteer have reduced stress-related illnesses, higher self-esteem and are less likely to feel isolated.

evelynFor 98-year-old Evelyn, the opportunity to volunteer alongside her peers at the Bernard Betel Centre helped her cope with the death of her husband while allowing her to give back to her community at the same time. The centre, which offers everything from wellness clinics to computer classes for seniors, relies on the support of more than 400 volunteers—both young and old—to operate.

When concerned individuals of all ages come together to address the issue of seniors’ isolation, we also build stronger communities as a result. That’s why it’s up to all of us to ensure the “golden years” really do live up to their promise for our region’s elderly individuals.