Blog post by Jacinthe Bertrand, Communications coordinator, Polio Quebec
Some measure a society’s success by its economic growth, others by its level of education or its health care system. I believe that the progress of a society can be measured by the place it leaves to its elders.
In 2018, there were more than 1.5 million people aged 65 and over in Quebec An article in Le Devoir reported that one in three seniors lives alone in Quebec, that the same proportion would have no contact with their family in the course of a week, and that one in five said they have no close friends. Will Quebec seniors suffer more and more from social isolation? In this post, I will try to demystify for you what this concept is, how it can be problematic, in which cases aging alone is not a problem, and how to break social isolation.
The little lexicon of social isolation
According to FADOQ, social isolation is the significant decrease in social interactions in terms of number, frequency and quality. Situations of social isolation are complex and differ from one individual to another since they can be short-term, for example in the case of a person who has just lost his or her spouse and who withdraws into himself or herself while grieving, or long-term in the case of a retiree who does not engage in other activities and therefore gradually loses his or her social network.
It should be noted that social isolation, loneliness and living alone are three completely different things. It is possible to feel loneliness even if you are surrounded by people if your social relationships are not of good quality. Another person could live alone without necessarily being socially isolated if he or she is involved in associations, has activities and goes out with friends.
Social isolation has many risk factors. Among other things, they include having limited financial resources, being childless, having physical, cognitive or sensory limitations, moving, losing your driver’s licence, not feeling safe in your neighbourhood, etc.
The consequences of social isolation
Of course, social isolation has negative consequences on well-being when it leads to a sense of loneliness. This can lead to a loss of self-esteem or a sense of worthlessness. However, in addition to the psychological distress caused by this scourge, studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness have a significant impact on physical health, as do obesity, sedentary lifestyles and smoking. Being isolated would lead to an increase in cardiovascular disorders, as individuals would have a higher resting heart rate and an exaggerated increase in blood pressure.
FADOQ reports a significant number of health consequences including decreased life expectancy, undernutrition, sleep disorders, declining cognitive abilities, etc. And a major problem that results from this is that people who suffer from isolation are less likely to seek the necessary help.
The other side of the story
Is social isolation inevitable? Do we have to resign ourselves to finding ourselves there one day? Of course not. As mentioned above, a person may very well live alone and have very limited social relationships, but not suffer from them.
The Chair on Aging conducted a study entitled “Aging and Living Alone“, aimed at learning more about the diversity of experiences of older people in order to better equip society to meet their needs. The majority of respondents identified that being alone is “not a tragedy in itself”.
So why should a worrying rate of seniors suffer from social isolation? One of the study participants summed up the answer to this question very well: “Aging can be scary if society leaves us on a parallel path. What is important to me is that we are considered as active citizens”.
An interesting element is the fact that aging is not experienced in the same way in cities or regions. When you live near a large centre, it is easier to move around because there are more options, and it is also easier to have access to local services. However, the regions have the advantage of having a greater sense of community. This may make it easier to find a support network outside the family.
How to break social isolation
If you are feeling lonely and want to deal with the situation, there are several options available to you.
Work occupies a huge place in our lives, so retiring can cause a big void. This is why it is important to get involved in other activities in order to build relationships with other people. If Bingo is too cliché for you, there is a wide range of sports and leisure activities accessible to people with reduced mobility. Through the Folio Polio, we have already told you about liquid gym or yoga through laughter, but you can find many hobbies and activities on association directories.
Being of service
The neighbourhood is a great opportunity to break out of isolation. If you can do it, offer yourself to be of service to your neighbours! This will give you a great opportunity to talk with them and keep busy. If you are unable to mow lawn or shovel snow, consider smaller services such as watching the children while the neighbour goes to the grocery store.
Keep yourself informed
The news is so useful to feed conversations. By staying informed on regional, national and international news, you will be able to start a discussion with your neighbours, your hairdresser, shopkeepers. Who knows, by sharing your point of view, you may discover new ways of thinking!
Participate in the community life
Whatever your interests, there is certainly a related association in which you could get involved. This not only helps others and makes you feel useful, but also creates new relationships. You will be able to meet people who have the same passions as you or who have similar backgrounds. For example, the Association Polio Québec is always open to welcoming participants to its Board of Directors meetings. If you would like to get involved, contact us to let us know your interest and we will provide you with details of the meetings.
Call on the Little Brothers
If you are not interested in the above solutions or are unable to apply one, you can call on the Little Brothers family. It is a community organization where people with free time decide to visit seniors in order to spend time with them. All Little brothers must go through a selection and background check process. For more information, visit their website.
 Institut de la statistique du Québec. Population du Québec par âge et sexe. http://www.stat.gouv.qc.ca/statistiques/population-demographie/structure/index.html
 Texte collectif. Le Devoir. L’isolement social des personnes âgées, un réel gaspillage humain. https://www.ledevoir.com/opinion/idees/536356/l-isolement-social-des-aines-un-reel-gaspillage-humain
 FADOQ. L’isolement social des aînés en bref. https://www.fadoq.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/outil-1-v-finale.pdf
 Dr Martin Juneau. Observatoire de la prévention ; Institut de cardiologie de Montréal. L’isolement social, un important facteur de risque de mortalité prématurée. https://observatoireprevention.org/2017/05/03/lisolement-social-important-facteur-de-risque-de-mortalite-prematuree/
 FADOQ. Ibidem
 Charpentier, M., Soulières, M. et Kirouac, L. Chaire de recherche sur le vieillissement et la diversité citoyenne. Vieillir et vivre seul-e. http://chairevieillissement.uqam.ca/fichier/document/VVS_RAPPORT_2019-01-25_MS_final.pdf
Olivier. 13 astuces pour sortir de l’isolement social. http://www.malade-mais-heureux.com/sortir-isolement-social/