How to combat loneliness in seniors

Age Friendly Niagara writer Sandra Downey looks at some examples

By: Sandra Downey

Intergenerational programs could help combat depression and loneliness in seniors, Sandra Downey writes. (Photo: Stock/Sandra Downey)

How much time do you spend daily using technology to communicate?

In Johann Hari’s recent book, Lost Connections, he shares that a typical person checks their phone “once every six and a half minutes.

If you’re a teenager, you send on average a hundred texts a day. And 42 per cent of us never turn our phones off. Ever.”

In today’s fast paced world there’s an increasing reliance on technology to keep us connected.

Although there are many benefits to living in a digital world a fallout is that all ages are experiencing a growing sense of isolation and loneliness. We’ve lost that human connection made through sharing a thought or idea, that is meaningful to us and others – face to face.

And it’s impacting us emotionally and physically.

Hari sites a study that reported lonely individuals are three times more likely to catch colds than people who had lots of close connections to other people.

Other health issues include a higher risk of onset of disability as well as becoming prone to depression.

So what can each of us do to form new connections in our community?

One solution that is gaining momentum globally is intergenerational programs.

These activities provide an opportunity for children, youth, adults and the aging to share, learn and engage together.

Successful initiatives underway in Ontario include the Seniors and Kids Intergenerational Programs (, in Brantford, bringing old and young together through class trips and other activities.

In Kingston Interlink Choir brings seniors and students together through song.

Do You Know Your Neighbour? launched in Hamilton, is dedicated to finding ways to watch out for and support our neighbours.

In Niagara Region the Snow Buddies program, offered through Niagara Community Support Services, connects students and adult volunteers to a senior in their community who requires assistance in keeping their driveway/pathways clear in the winter months.

Mackenzie, a student volunteer, signed up because she enjoys giving back. Over the past five years the program has allowed her to develop a friendship with an elderly neighbour who she might not have known otherwise.

When she’s over to shovel they often take a few minutes to chat about everyday topics like school or the antics of her Snow Buddy’s cat.

Eighty-six year old Vera is pleased to be a recipient of the program as she’s not ready to move from the home she’s lived in for over twenty years.

Through Snow Buddies matching, two young boys from a local school now shovel her driveway. She shared that maintaining her independence ‘means everything to me.’

Having the driveway clear allows her to get out during the winter months and makes it safe for visitors to drop in.

She also enjoys taking a few minutes to check in with the boys as they work.

This program is a success but the need is greater than the number of volunteers.

If you’re interested in volunteering or learning more please check out their website.

You’re not too old or too young to contribute to an age friendly community.

Ensuring we’re connected builds healthy neighbourhoods and safe cities. For more information on initiatives underway and how you can be involved please go to