Lonely No More: Decreasing Social Isolation in Rural Seniors

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Submitted by Megan Fluit, Gateway Center of Excellence in Rural Health

Winter is a lonely time for many people. Extreme weather, shorter days, and terrible road conditions force us to stay indoors, and travel becomes extremely difficult. Activities that normally occupy our time, like going for walks or hikes, attending social outings, gardening and outdoor housework are no longer possible, and it feels like the days stretch on forever.

With winter, also comes Christmas. The Holiday season is a time for visiting family and friends. It is a happy time for many people, but it can also be a reminder to some, of how lonely they really feel. In the elderly population especially, Christmas can be a difficult time of year. Health issues and mobility challenges can make it more difficult to travel and visit family members, especially if family members live long distances away. For some, Christmas carries the reminder of a loved one that is no longer here to celebrate with them. A survey done by the AARP Foundation (American Association of Retired Persons) reports that “31% percent of respondents say they have felt lonely during the holiday season sometime during the past five years, and 41% have worried about a family member or friend feeling lonesome.”

Lonely No More is a community-based program, funded by the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility, that aims to reduce these feelings of loneliness in rural seniors. The program will provide the opportunity for social interaction, participation in meaningful discussions with new friends, assistance with learning about health resources, and a chance to share life experiences with peers.

Discussion groups remind seniors that they are not alone; they create an opportunity to learn from the experiences of others who are also aging in rural communities. Discussion topics are chosen based on current concerns and/or interests of members in the group. These topics may be lighthearted at times and serious at others, offering the opportunity for participants to have fun with friends while also being there for each other when someone is struggling.

Our goal is that the Lonely No More program will help reduce loneliness by bringing friendship and community to those who need it. This program is using a teleconference platform to enable participants to have discussions with a group of friends from the comfort of their own home. A teleconference line is a tool that allows users to talk with more than one person at a time, similar to party lines that were popular in the 1950s and 60s. Lonely No More plans to use this phone platform to coordinate elder circles of peer support to give social support to seniors from their homes. Our trained volunteer facilitators will host the calls and are knowledgeable on the many health & wellness services available in areas of Perth, Huron, Bruce or Grey should a member require some support.

If you are looking for an opportunity to make new social connections this winter, or if you know of someone at risk of isolation, please feel free to contact me for more information!

Megan Fluit: 519-635-3810, and megan@gatewayruralhealth.ca Gateway Office: 519-612-1053