Causes of Isolation

“Isolation isn’t unique to seniors. You can suffer from loneliness at any age. Little Brothers’ volunteer program makes it possible to bring people together who feel like they’re all alone.”

Caroline Sauriol, Executive Director of Little Brothers, in an interview with Marie-France Bazzo

Several factors can contribute to increased isolation: 

  1. Loss of loved ones
  2. Physical and mobility impairments
  3. Mental health conditions and cognitive decline
  4. Living alone 
  5. Poverty

 

1) LOSS OF LOVED ONES

Major life transitions – retiring from work, having a driver’s licence revoked, moving into a care facility, not to mention enduring the death of a loved one – can hit hard. Social contact can diminish as a result, causing  feelings of isolation and loneliness.[1]

  • 72% of women aged 85 to 89 are widowed (compared with 38% of men in the same age group).
  • 60% of our Elder Friends used to live with their significant other.
  • 54% now live in a retirement residence or nursing home.

It is a huge blow to lose the important people in your life. At Little Brothers, we take it upon ourselves to give this feeling of family back to our Elder Friends – something that can restore their spark and reawaken their will to live, as Mrs. Martin tells us here:

 “Losing my husband was a terrible thing. He wasn’t only the man I was married to: he was my best friend and confidante for 65 years. He was my only family. When he died, I was left all alone. I didn’t want to live anymore.

Then, one fine spring day, Little Brothers came into my life. Although nobody could ever replace my Maurice, Little Brothers has given me a family. They listen to me, treat me with respect and, most important of all, they make me feel like I’m not alone. Life is worth living again. Thank you!”

Mrs. Martin, Elder Friend 

 

2) PHYSICAL AND MOBILITY IMPAIRMENTS

  • _MG_3400 (2)The human body deteriorates twice as quickly after age 80.
  • 9 out of 10 individuals in the 65+ age bracket take prescription drugs.[2]
  • 69% of people 75 or older live with at least one impairment.
  • Many seniors with serious health problems can no longer drive.
  • 50% of people 75 or older suffer from hearing problems (the proportion in nursing homes is nearly 9 out of 10)[3].

Social isolation due to hearing loss: A serious problem with a potentially simple solution

After arthritis and high blood pressure, age-related hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition among the elderly. Hearing problems lead to communication impairment, which in turn leads to social isolation. And the repercussions can be devastating. In fact, according to study conducted by Dr. Frank Lin an otologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, cognitive performance decline is 30% to 40% faster in older adults with hearing loss.

 

“Little Brothers kept me living my life to the fullest! I have always led a very active and stimulating life. A few years ago, when I was told I had macular degeneration, everything turned upside down for me. It was a huge blow to lose my sight, and I started to get depressed. Because I couldn’t get out much anymore, I thought there was nothing left for me to enjoy. My spirits sank. It’s terrible to feel like you’re all alone. But Little Brothers made my days so much brighter. Today, I’m happy because they are in my life. They are my friends.”

— Mrs. Gagné, Elder Friend, Little Brothers – Montreal

Read more touching testimonials from our Elder Friends.

 

Here is how we lend a helping hand to our Elder Friends with physical and mobility impairments:

  • In 2014, ourhome and hospital visit program and long-term pairing program meant that our Elder Friends were visited 14,000 times during the year. As a result, these socially isolated seniors had someone to chat with and open up to, in a familiar environment and at their own pace.
  • The Quality of Life program enables Elder Friends with limited financial resources to acquire assistive devices, such as hearing aids, walkers and adjustable beds, and other items designed to make daily living easier.
  • We arranged free consultations for our Elder Friends with audiology students enrolled at the Université de Montréal speech and hearing clinic.

 

3) MENTAL HEALTH CONDITIONS AND COGNITIVE DECLINE

  • picto dame âgée1 out of 4 seniors are living with a mental health problem (depression, anxiety, dementia).
  • People who feel lonely are 64% more likely to develop dementia.[4]
  • 23% of our Elder Friends have cognitive impairments.
  • 72% of Alzheimer’s patients are women.

Memory loss and other cognitive impairments make it difficult to maintain social ties. Sadly, many seniors in cognitive decline often end up forgotten and abandoned, with nobody to come see them and show them they care. And yet, they crave human contact and connection just as much as anyone else.

Some Elder Friends also struggle with mental health problems, such as anxiety, intellectual disability and depression. Their condition limits them in their ability to bond with other people. Our team therefore goes the extra mile to make sure they are included in our activities and give them opportunities to flourish.

 

At Little Brothers, we improve the lives of isolated seniors with mental health and cognitive disorders.

  • We are there for them throughout their remaining years. We provide them with companionship, TLC and access to activities and outings, no matter how severe their condition. We feel strongly that every individual is unique and irreplaceable and has the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
  • We ensure the volunteers who work with these Elder Friends receiveadequate training and support.
  • We offer a personalized, one-on-one approach, with activities adapted to their specific needs and capacities. One of our focuses is sensory stimulation to promote contact and prevent further decline.
  • We integrate these Elder Friends into various groups and expose them to the same experiences as everyone else.

 

4) LIVING ALONE

  • 1 out of 3 people aged 75 or older live alone.
  • 39% of Elder Friends still reside in their home.

It is difficult, even impossible, to connect with other people if you are advanced in years, live on your own and are restricted in your activities because of health or financial woes. In many cases, the family and friends you have been closest to have predeceased you or are no longer in your life.

Unfortunately, stories like these are far from the exception in today’s senior population, especially among women (who make up 76% of the Little Brothers community).

But with us in their life, these Elder Friends know that they matter to someone. Their outlook brightens and their hope is revived. They can once again begin building relationships that allow them to overcome their social isolation, especially if they are paired with a volunteer companion.

 

5) POVERTY

  • 1 out of 2 seniors has an annual income of less than $20,000.[5]
  • More than 80% of our Elder Friends receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

A large proportion of our Elder Friends live on a fixed income and struggle to make ends meet. This financial insecurity exacerbates their isolation: they simply do not have the means to do things like eat out, socialize or own and operate a car.

 We do what we can to alleviate this burden and meet our Elder Friends’ needs.

  • All of the services we offer at Little Brothers are completely free of charge.
  • The Quality of Life program allows financially strapped seniors to procure items that will make their daily routine simpler, safer and more gratifying, including hearing aids, adjustable beds and walkers.
  • Elder Friends are also entitled to shop for free at the Little Brothers thrift shop, located on the corner of Gilford and Garnier streets in Montreal.

 

REFERENCES

[1] National Seniors Council, Report on the Social Isolation of Seniors (2013–2014): http://www.seniorscouncil.gc.ca/eng/research_publications/social_isolation/page00.shtml

[2] Enquête québécoise sur les limitations d’activités, les maladies chroniques et le vieillissement, Institut de la statistique du Québec, 2013.

[3] http://ordredeproteger.com/blog/2015/04/29/audiologistes-audioprothesistes-aines/

[4] Tjalling Jan Holwerda, Dorly J H Deeg, Aartjan T F Beekman, Theo G van Tilburg, Max L Stek, Cees Jonker and Robert A Schoevers. “Feelings of loneliness, but not social isolation, predict dementia onset” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry, 2014, Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 135–142: http://jnnp.bmj.com/content/early/2012/11/06/jnnp-2012-302755.abstract?sid=5dc7047e-bdcc-43c5-8d88-98dc181740de

[5] Ministère de la Famille et des Aînés du Québec. Les Aînés du Québec, 2012

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