This post is sponsored by The United Way

I’ve always been pretty close to my the older ladies in my life.  My grandmother Sarah, who passed away just a few months ago was always so fun to be around. I’d call her here and there, and visit at least a year.  My other grandmother Jean, pretty much the same. And I always have a great aunt Hermine, who is as fun and vivacious as I always remember her being.

I want to say I see them as much as I can, I’m not sure if that’s true. I really do try my best, but I can only imagine what it would be likely for the thousands and thousands of seniors who no doubt feel the impact of isolation. And we like to think that technology is bringing us closer, the learning curve and accessibility of tech is often more of a barrier than I think people realize.

I’m talking about the serious topic of social isolation, because whether we mean to ignore it, or just don’t think about the facts can no longer be #unignorable.  This year, United Way’s #Unignorable campaign aims to help issues that you might not often think about. After all, how can you help solve something that you don’t even know exists?  

Because of my relationship with my grandmothers and great-aunt, I wanted to talk and learn more about social isolation, because when you talk to them, it’s something that has a great impact on their lives, either directly or the people around them.

Without getting too personal, my great aunt lives in a pretty small town. She doesn’t have kids and unfortunately all of her siblings have passed away. So someone like her undoubtedly feels lonely. How can you not?  Half of us would go crazy if we didn’t have plans on the weekend. I feel like, I guess, because my great aunt tells me when she feels lonely, so I know I have to step up my communication with her. But that’s a big step to tell someone you’re feeling lonesome, no matter how old you are, so you can only imagine how many of Canada’s seniors are feeling on a day to day basis.

When you’re younger, it’s significantly easier to be social, but as we get older it seems that more and more barriers are put in front of people, making it hard to do something as simple and as human as a connection.  According to the United Way, “Lacking or weak social connections don’t just impact our awareness of the help available around us—it can actually shorten our lives. Without social connections, the impact on our physical well-being is comparable to smoking your whole life. For seniors, issues such as poverty, disability, illness, and lack of mobility reduce social connections and lead to isolation within their communities. These lacking connections can lead to extended hospital stays after injury, extreme hunger, and prematurely moving into assisted living.”

This is actually one of the reasons I’m so passionate about fighting for better snow removal in Calgary.  New facilities like the Central Public Library are an incredible resource for people like seniors, but the building is rendered useless if seniors can’t get to it.

And social isolation isn’t just about seniors, it’s about newcomers, people who live in rural areas, those with limited mobility.  If we don’t fight to take down barriers of isolation, there will always be people stuck behind them.

So here are five quick ways we can help address something as serious as social isolation.

Write the relatives in your life a holiday card.

Maybe I’m an old soul, I love sending out holiday cards. It’s such a nice and fun gesture, really easy to do and always appreciated. Who doesn’t like receiving a holiday card in the mail?  So this season, think about some of the older relatives in your life. Even if they are surrounded by all the friends and the family, I card from you can really make their day. And then there’s other, who might only receive a card from you. Imagine the impact that will make.  And if you’re lucky, you’ll one in return.

Volunteer for a program at senior housing.

It’s not just about helping those in your life who might be suffering from social isolation. You can help those in your community as well by volunteering your time and energy. Whether it’s a program at the library, a community centre or senior housing. We could all stand to be on social media a little less and a lot more social.

Reach out to someone who would benefit from a day of you driving them around.

Sometimes it’s hard to know how to help, that’s probably why whenever I go visit a relative in my family I offer to drive them anywhere I can. It’s a sure way I know that I can help. We live in such a car-centric culture that if you don’t (or can’t) drive, it can be hard to get around and if it’s hard to get around, well, eventually you’ll just stop trying.  So a fun way to offer your help, is by offering to pick someone up, drive them around, help with errands, bills, things like that.

Be snow angel.

Make sure you’re not only shoveling your sidewalk, but all around you.  In western Canadian cites, citizens are tasked with shoveling their sidewalks. But this practice works if everyone does it.  So get out and there help clear as much of the sidewalks as you can. Clear sidewalks are no good if one house doesn’t do it. And push city councils to make snow clearing sidewalks and crosswalks a priority.

Give them a sense of purpose.

A few years ago, I heard the expression: “We’re all just practicing at getting older.” None of us are getting younger, and if I’m lucky, I too someday will be a senior. But that doesn’t mean I want to sit in my home all day.  I’ll still want to do things, even if I might need a little help. And that’s what we have to think about now. There are thousands of seniors who are willing and able to help, we just have to ask them.

Mike Morrison