By Farah Msefer
Social Connectedness Fellow
In Canada, the proportion of older people is increasing at a notable rate. This reflects the social, economic and medical progress representative of a country’s well-being. However, research has found that social exclusion is chronic among older people in Canada, with approximately 1.4 million seniors reporting feeling isolated.[i] Both ageism and social isolation are associated with physical and mental health issues, such as depression and chronic diseases, highlighting the need to foster greater social connectedness amongst this community and across generations.[ii]
In February 2012, the Vancouver Sun published an article reporting that seniors suffer extensively from isolation and social discrimination. It revealed that ageism appears to be one of the most accepted forms of prejudice: “One third of Canadians admit they have treated someone differently because of their age, and 63 per cent of seniors over 65 say this has happened to them.”[iii]
Isolation is often the result of stigmatization, and younger generations consistently creating and acting upon false perceptions of seniors. Psychologists like Ami Rokah consider this a public health-crisis that must be addressed.[iv] Yet, still there is a considerable lack of involvement of seniors at the community level, socially and culturally.
Intergenerational cohesion and the transfer of knowledge and skills is integral to our society’s socio-economic well-being and happiness. Unfortunately, age discrimination causes disengagement, decreased confidence and self-depreciation among older people.[v] However, community-support is growing in terms of creating spaces in which generations can connect and foster a greater feeling of social connectedness. Intergenerational activities have proven to be beneficial for everyone involved, helping to combat prejudices associated with ageism and strengthening social inclusion for the senior population.
In Montreal, Little Brothers brings people of all ages together through intergenerational activities, creating mutual respect, opportunities for co-learning, and fun. This helps to erase boundaries and promote a culture of tolerance and inclusion. Through various programs ranging from weekly visits, gardening activities, and interactions with elementary and high-school students, Little Brothers, makes the most of seniors’ knowledge and wisdom. For instance, the Surfing Together project helps the youngest and oldest generations to stay connected, as young volunteers assist seniors in learning how to connect to the Internet via an iPad.[vi]
Yellow Door, a non-profit based in Montreal, runs a similar program involving intergenerational activities. The Generations Project invites university students to volunteer and join older individuals in a range of activities, from attending social events to home visits. These activities seek to tackle the generation gap, erase ageism, and, above all, to benefit both young people and seniors through shared, joyful moments and learning from one another.
All of us experience isolation and feel disconnected at some period in our lives. Sadly, this issue is too often overlooked, especially among our senior population. As we all participate in the ageing process, we should endeavour to value and highlight the contributions that each of us make to our communities and society more broadly.
[i] Canada, Government of Canada Statistics. “Urinary Incontinence and Loneliness in Canadian Seniors.” Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. N.p., 27 Nov. 2015. Web. 15 June 2017. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2013010/article/11872-eng.htm
[ii] HelpAge Canada. “Social Isolation and Loneliness.” Web. 15 June 2017. http://rise-cisa.ca/about/social-isolation-and-loneliness/
[iii] Harris, Misty. “Ageism is most tolerated social prejudice in Canada, poll finds.” Vancouver Sun, February 11, 2012. Accessed June 15, 2017. http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Ageism+most+tolerated+social+prejudice+Canada+poll+finds/7490281/story.html
[iv] CBC News. “Loneliness in Canadian seniors and epidemic, says psychologist.” CBC Radio Canada, September 20, 2016. Accessed June 15, 2017. http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-september-20-2016-1.3770103/loneliness-in-canadian-seniors-an-epidemic-says-psychologist-1.3770208
[v] DiGiacomo Gordon et al., “Canada should lead the push for an international convention on older persons’ rights.” Policy Options, March 1, 2017. Accessed June 15, 2017 http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/march-2017/protecting-the-rights-of-older-persons/
[vi] Little Brothers. “Surfing Together.” Little Brothers. Accessed June 17, 2017. http://www.petitsfreres.ca/en/programs/surfing-together/