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Canadians and their physicians from coast to coast to coast are speaking up. If health and health care matter to you, become a CMA Health Advocate today! Together, we can put health care back on the agenda.

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Combating Loneliness and Isolation in Seniors with Community Engagement

People are encouraged to seek help if they find that they’re depressed and lonely, to talk it out, to find activities they enjoy to lift their mood, and to rediscover the simple pleasures in life. It is not uncommon for seniors to experience depression or loneliness – it is a time fraught with changes; the loss of family and friends, retirement from full-time work and decreased independence as a result of aging can all contribute to a low mood. Seniors who are struggling should be given adequate support and tools to cope, just as would be done for younger people struggling with these feelings. We cannot simply dismiss a senior’s loneliness and depression as feelings that inevitably happen with age and that nothing can be done about.

           The changes that seniors face as they retire, start experiencing loss and require more help as their independence decreases are things that can make their world seem to shrink; they may not have as many friends as they did in the past, or their lives may not be as active and independent as they once were. When this happens, it is vital for seniors to maintain a sense of connection to people, communities and the things they love.

           According to the Centre on Aging at the University of Manitoba, a good way for seniors to keep engaged with the world is for them to seek out opportunities to volunteer or work part-time and contribute meaningfully to the community in which they live. Maintaining meaningful connections can contribute to happier moods, better health and longer lives.

           Seniors can seek out opportunities in their local areas; options will differ depending on where they are. Volunteering and mentoring opportunities are generally available everywhere. Mentoring can allow seniors the chance to offer knowledge and support to younger people with whom they share certain personality traits or a career path, using their experience to guide their mentee.

           On its website, the government of British Columbia discusses the importance of age-friendly communities, places that are accessible and welcoming to seniors through affordable housing and volunteer and job opportunities that meet their needs and interests. Life expectancy is much longer now than it used to be; “retirement” doesn’t mean the same thing as it did 30 or 40 years ago. Many people who have conventionally retired continue to work in some capacity or they seek out a second career. An individual’s “golden years” of being a retired senior citizen may represent the longest portion of their life, encompassing upwards of 20 or 30 years.

           Your life shouldn’t stop when you become a senior, or when you retire; you should be able to remain actively and meaningfully engaged with the world. Seniors can still make valuable contributions to society. Age-friendly communities offer one way to maintain important connections, providing environments, housing, services, employment opportunities and volunteer opportunities that are all targeted to a senior’s unique needs.