How easy is it for seniors to meet new people and make lasting connections?

 Staying engaged with your community and those around you can become more difficult as you age for a variety of reasons.
The post How easy is it for seniors to meet new people and make lasting connections? appeared first on 

“Loneliness has never been seen by people as an illness, if you will, or as a condition. And, in fact a lot of people were very scared of saying that they are lonely,” Francoise Morissette, an organizational development consultant, told

Morissette said a stigma is attached to loneliness and that is because it was often assumed that there was ‘something wrong’ with anyone who admitted they were lonely.

Then, COVID levelled the playing field making loneliness an everyday, yet, news     worthy occurrence that people became willing to talk about.

According to the National Institute on Aging at Toronto Metropolitan University, social isolation and loneliness are often used interchangeably. However, social isolation is a lack of contacts, family or friends, while loneliness is an undesirable subjective experience stemming from unfulfilled social needs. 

That means social isolation and loneliness probably share common risk factors, consequences and beneficial interventions.

Older adults are more prone to experiencing both social isolation and loneliness due to life events, declining health and mobility, and loss of loved ones. 

Both social isolation and loneliness can lead to mood disorders, dementia, heart disease, increased substance abuse, poor sleep, and premature death.

Those outcomes lead to increased health care use as well as higher health care costs.

Canada lacks loneliness strategy

Morissette pointed out that Canada was a little behind the times though. “This topic hit it big in the world when the UK [United Kingdom] launched a national Loneliness Strategy (2018),” shared Morissette.

The British government investigated a variety of measures and initiatives to help lonely people be – well, less lonely.

When older adults became the focus, two distinct groups were identified as being vulnerable to chronic loneliness. They included elders whose kids had moved far away and seniors in nursing homes that didn’t provide emotional care or connections.

It seems the biggest determinant of loneliness is a lack of opportunities to give back to the community.

UK elders whose children moved a great distance away were vulnerable to chronic loneliness. 

Morissette says the UK was trailblazing by identifying the categories of people that are most likely to be lonely and then finding solutions to remedy the situation.

“I would say that the UK right now is probably the country that has the biggest data base on what to do to eradicate loneliness,” shared Morissette. 

The UK put an infrastructure in place to ensure elders felt like they belonged to a community and had a sense of togetherness. To that end, they enlisted pubs to organize activities for lonely elders.

Eventually, not-for-profits started a Campaign to End Loneliness which created a social fabric and evolved into addressing social causes through activism. 

Pandemic worsened loneliness for seniors

The Canadian government was acutely aware that seniors’ residences and long-term care (LTC) homes were not meeting residents’ needs for social interaction. That sparked an interest in making it easier for older people to remain in their homes for as long as possible – it’s known as aging in place.

It’s financially advantageous for the Federal government to provide subsidies for renovations rather than constructing and staffing seniors’ residences and nursing homes.

To help seniors age in place, the Federal government set up a home inspection system that identifies possible dangers and offers solutions that homeowners can implement.

During the COVID pandemic, Ontario’s government basically ignored seniors. In fact, 80 per cent of COVID victims were seniors in long-term care (LTC), retirement homes or hospitals.

That moved Jean-Francois Pinsonnault, a certified Senior Home Safety Specialist, to write Aging Safely in the Home of Your Choice.  

In addition to being an expert in the field, Pinsonnault took care of his mother for the last 15 years of her life – five of those years in his home. Lived experience made it easier for him to identify ways to minimize reorganizing and customizing costs.

The Council on Aging offered suggestions to make a home senior friendly. The total cost was over $50,000. Pinsonnault was able to find less expensive alternatives that often didn’t require hiring contractors.

A typical wheelchair is 36 inches wide. Most outside doors are 34 inches wide. Pinsonnault bought three pull away hinges for $75 that added the thickness of the door – just enough for the wheelchair to navigate through. Replacing the door with a wider version would have cost over $3,000.

Pinsonnault’s first book, Lasting Touch, chronicled his mother’s journey and the importance elderly parents place on independence. 

He discovered that in order to avoid loneliness, seniors need to take the first step and make an effort to contact friends and family because everyone is busy. 

Simple things like taking a free online course, webinars that include breakout rooms so participants can chat, and even making sure you get a hearing aid if you need one can all help reduce isolation. 

Hearing aids can be costly, averaging $3,000 – the Federal government covers $1,000 every five years. Pinsonnault found $75 earbuds hearing aids that don’t work as well but are affordable and don’t fall out when wearing a mask.

Bad hearing tends to pull seniors away from society, isolating them. That loneliness affects their physical and mental health. They lose interest in life and every     day activities.

Helping seniors age at home

A 2020 National Institute on Aging survey found that 97 per cent of seniors 65 and over want to age in their homes.

The Federal government saw the emerging trend and decided to fund a pilot project in York Region led by Canadian Mental Health Association York (CMHA York).

Morissette sat on the initial advisory committee that designed the Community Framework to End Chronic Loneliness. Experts with backgrounds in psychology, medicine, architecture and construction worked together to design communities that reduce loneliness. 

Townhomes and low-rise apartments were intermingled with facilities and services encouraging residents of all ages to get to know      one another.

These walkable communities, also known as 15-minute communities, not only help older adults avoid loneliness, but also new comers especially those who don’t speak English. 

The plan began implementation once it was approved by York Region and the Province. Next steps include rolling this out across Ontario and eventually, the country.

Right now, the Ontario government is still deciding when the plan will go province-wide.

“What York Region has done is ground breaking, ambitious, yet achievable,” declared Morissette.

York was the first region to design solutions that implement a population-based approach while CMHA York created the first ever community framework to prevent chronic loneliness called Solutions for Belonging.

The framework includes creating social connections within a community to promote connectedness and belonging while facilitating access for all.

The Framework connects health, socio-economic, physical and cultural environments to prevent chronic loneliness for anyone at risk whether it’s seniors, newcomers, or college students. 

Karen Beitel, CMHA York Project Lead, shared with that next steps include piloting the framework in the Greater Toronto Area with local partners. That includes securing funding from the New Horizons for Seniors Program and collaborating with Vancouver-based Fluid Sociability on a tool to support evidence-based building design.

“Now we realize that loneliness is not a personal shame. It occurs because our systems are not necessarily geared to avoid it,” said Morissette. “So, if our systems become better linked and our social fabric is tighter, then there will be less people who are lonely and it will not necessarily be their fault if they are lonely.”

The post How easy is it for seniors to meet new people and make lasting connections? appeared first on


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Random Youtube Video