Although the past year and a half has passed with many struggles associated with the global COVID pandemic, there have also been a number of silver linings. One of them is a greater appreciation and understanding of how difficult it can be for people who live their daily lives in isolation. With the impact of social isolation and loneliness in mind, many communities have created programs to help seniors living alone stay engaged both socially and cognitively.
According to a recent KawarthaNOW report, the age-friendly city of Peterborough, Ontario has launched a free interactive telephone program to help community-dwelling seniors stay informed on wellness issues, make social connections and participate in brain-stimulating activities. The “Senior Centre Without Walls” program is a partnership between the City’s Age-Friendly Peterborough Initiative, Activity Haven Senior Centre, and the Peterborough Public Library.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers loneliness and social isolation in older adults a public health risk that puts them at a 50 percent greater risk for dementia and increases the risk for premature death from all causes, rivaling the risk associated with smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
The program, which launched in May, hopes to create more opportunities for socializing among isolated residents over the age of 50. Although the need for such a program predates COVID-19, the pandemic increased awareness about the negative outcomes associated with long-term isolation and loneliness. Because so much of the world pivoted to online communication and social interaction, many seniors without tech skills or internet access were left out of the conversation. That’s why the telephone-based program works so well with older adults.
To participate in the program, Peterborough residents can register by calling Activity Haven at 705-876-1670 or, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Senior Centre Without Walls releases a bi-monthly calendar with a number of phone activities including chair yoga, book chats, tea and inspirational chats, stress busters, and memoir writing. An online survey is available to help gather new ideas for telephone activities that would interest older adults. A printed copy can be obtained by calling the outreach librarian at the Peterborough Public Library.
For seniors who may be hesitant about participating in the program, a family member can join in on the first call. Some seniors may feel more comfortable just listening in on their first phone call. Volunteers are also welcome to help moderate and facilitate calls.