After Marilyn, 83, lost her husband and companion of 63 years last spring, she dropped many of her activities and grew apart from her friends. Her daughter Mary, 61, wondered if the changes she saw in her normally active mother were due to aging or because she was depressed. Mary began helping with shopping, cleaning and coordinating doctors’ appointments. She began losing sleep and worrying about her mother when she wasn’t there while also juggling the responsibilities of a full-time job and a first grandchild on the way.
Much like Mary, today’s adult children increasingly find themselves balancing a variety of responsibilities. Known as the “sandwich generation”, many adult children are struggling to care for their aging parents while supporting their own children. Added to this delicate balancing act is the issue of social isolation among seniors, a problem that impacts both aging parents and their caregiving children.
The effects of social isolation
The social isolation and loneliness experienced by Marilyn reflect an issue of growing concern in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, about 37 percent of seniors 75 and older live alone. According to the World Health Organization, social isolation is associated with higher rates of premature death, a lower sense of well-being, more depression and a higher level of disability from chronic diseases.
Research also shows that social isolation increases “caregiver burden,” with potentially negative effects on health and quality of life. This currently impacts approximately one-third of baby boomers who provide assistance to an aging family member, with about 70 percent of caregivers aged 45 to 64 actively working, according to Statistics Canada and BMO Retirement Institute.
Finding the right solution
The good news is there are solutions to reduce the risks of social isolation for seniors and their family caregivers, including maintaining or restoring an active social life. “Staying socially active, in a variety of physical, social and emotional activities can truly enrich life for seniors and help them build new social connections,” says Laura Forsyth, director of Life Enrichment at Chartwell Retirement Residences.
The right support services can often help prolong independence and help manage care needs for an aging parent while reducing the stress on adult children. If the time has come to consider your options, a retirement residence may be the solution.
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