Seniors are some of the loneliest people in society.
More than one million Canadian seniors have reported feeling isolated, according to Statistics Canada.
“The issue of severe isolation is a very real concern,” said Agnes Kossakowska, the coordinator of a new program that aims to connect lonely seniors with community volunteers.
“The impact of this new program can be profound, actually it can fundamentally change a senior citizen’s life.”
The program is the work of the Sooke Region Health Network working in partnership with the Sooke Region Volunteer Centre to recruit and match community volunteers with seniors in need of companionship.
“What we’re doing right now is gathering a list of seniors who need some support or companionship as well as a list of volunteers who are willing to give up a little of their time to bring joy back into the life of an isolated senior,” Kossakowska said.
“In both cases, we’ll meet with the people interested in the program to get a sense of who they are, what their interests might be and how much time they either require or are willing to give.”
Once that information is gathered, the program will match the needs of the seniors with the abilities and interests of the volunteers; looking for a perfect long term match that can be the foundation for a long term relationship.
The volunteers’ activities can range from simply checking in with their senior match every so often to regular home visitation. Those friendly visits can involve chatting over tea or coffee, playing board games, helping with computers, watching TV, or just being with one another in companionable silence.
“For some seniors, they have had to give up their pets and what they would really love is a visit from a friend with a friendly furry friend that the volunteer can share with their senior companion. It doesn’t seem like a big thing, but it can have a real impact on a senior’s life,” Kossakowska said.
Other aspects of the program can involve projects like helping a senior who may have lost their driving privileges to navigate the public transportation system.
“If the senior hasn’t been on a bus for a long time, the idea can be really daunting.”
In short, Kossakowska said, the program’s intent is to create friendships between volunteers and seniors to end the isolation that those seniors may experience.
A senior may withdraw into isolation because of health conditions, depression, or mental illness.
Even simple things like a fear of falling can keep a senior a virtual prisoner in their home as can fatigue, chronic pain, or shame over memory problems.
“No two matches will be the same and the relationships are allowed to grow and adapt as needs change,” Kossakowska said.
Potential volunteers or seniors in need of companionship are invited to contact program administrators at 250-642-6364 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’ll arrange for interviews for both volunteers and seniors to ensure the safety of both parties. For the volunteers, there’s also a need for a free criminal record check,” she said.
“As well, we’ll be checking in with our matched couples to make sure the program is working for them. We want this to be a positive, life-changing experience for everyone involved.”