In February: be connected, stay savvy
21 February 2017
By Benedicte Schoepflin
By Isabelle Groc, Community Engagement Coordinator
21 February 2017 – February, as the month of Family Day and Valentine’s Day, is a time of celebrating family, love and companionship. 14-year old Vancouver resident Elodie Doumenc felt sad that she could not spend time on Family Day with her grandmother, Alexandra, who lives in France, and is unable to communicate with her family because of advanced Parkinson’s disease. “I think she must be feeling very lonely,” the 8th-grader says. Realizing that many other seniors face isolation due to location, disability, disease, or language barriers, Elodie wanted to help restore those vital connections. “There are a lot of seniors who go through similar situations, but some of them don’t even have family that visit them,” she says.
Elodie found her opportunity through a campaign launched by the website DoSomething.org, an organisation for young people and social change. She joined the Love Letters Challenge, a campaign asking young people to make handmade Valentine Day cards and mail them to seniors. Elodie relentlessly worked for two days and a half, and created 46 cards, all with unique designs and words, to be distributed to seniors through the Meals on Wheels Program. “I wanted to make them feel like they are still connected to the world.”
The importance of social connection for seniors is increasingly acknowledged. A growing body of research suggests that social isolation and loneliness can have serious negative impacts on older people, both psychologically and physically. For example, a study led by researchers at the University of California followed 1,600 adults over the age of 60 for six years in the United States and examined the relationship between loneliness, functional decline, and death. The study found that nearly 1 in 3 people reported loneliness, and that loneliness was associated with an increased risk of death: almost 23 percent of seniors who reported loneliness died within six years, compared with 14 percent of those who were not lonely. Recognizing the importance of this issue, in Canada the National Seniors Council recently completed a national consultation on social isolation of seniors. Social isolation is also considered a risk factor for elder abuse, including financial abuse. In Canada, existing findings demonstrate that many older Canadians are socially isolated or at risk of becoming so.
It can be challenging to maintain meaningful personal relationships as we age. In a Statistics Canada 2012 Health Report, almost one in four adults over the age of 65 (24%) reported that they would have liked to have participated in more social activities in the past year. Statistics Canada’s 2008/09 Canadian Community Health Survey found that 19% of individuals aged 65 or over felt a lack of companionship, left out, or isolated from others. At the same time, there are more and more seniors becoming divorced or separated. A Statistics Canada 2011 research study showed that between 1981 and 2011 the proportion of those who were divorced or separated increased from 4% to 12% among seniors 65 years of age and older. CBC’s Sunday Edition recently profiled grey divorce in a documentary.
In this context, more seniors are turning to the internet to find companionship and combat loneliness. Canadians aged 65 and older represent the fastest group of Internet users, and among senior Internet users, approximately 70% go online every day. Online dating sites for seniors have substantially increased, and in the United States, 12% of 55-to 64 year-olds report using an online dating site versus only 6% in 2013. A recent documentary, the Age of Love, followed a group of seniors ranging in age from 70 to 90 as they prepare for a speed-dating event.
As is the case for people of all ages, as seniors spend more time online and try to make more connections, it is important that they get informed on how to stay safe when using computers and the Internet, and when they are meeting new people. Every year, Canadians lose money to love scams. Scammers typically connect with victims through social media or an online dating site, and use fake photos and stories to win their trust. After the victim has fallen in love, the scammer says they need financial help to get out of a difficult situation.
The Canadian Centre for Elder Law has developed a series of educational tools to help seniors protect themselves against fraud. The Be a Savvy Senior tools identify some of the most common scams con artists use to target seniors and offer strategies seniors can apply to protect themselves and respond to suspected fraud. In particular, an animated video tells the story of an older woman who uses common sense to protect herself from an online dating scam.
Photo: handmade Valentine’s Day cards, courtesy of Elodie Doumenc