ZOOMER Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - By Con­nie Proteau

MORE CANA­DI­ANS than ever are liv­ing alone. Sin­gle per­son house­holds are not just on the rise here; the U.S., U.K., France, Ja­pan, Swe­den, Nor­way and Ger­many re­port sim­i­lar trends. Re­cently re­leased 2016 cen­sus data re­veals that sin­gle per­son house­holds (28 per cent) are the most com­mon type of house­hold in the coun­try.

Is all this solo liv­ing cre­at­ing a lonely planet? And, if so, what sort of ef­fect is it hav­ing on our health?

Be­fore we get to that though, it’ s im­por­tant to dis­tin­guish be­tween soli­tude and lone­li­ness. Are peo­ple liv- ing alone as a life­style choice or does it come as a re­sult of cir­cum­stances?

Ami Rokach, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist who teaches at Toronto’s York Univer­sity and wrote Lone­li­ness, Love and All That’s Be­tween, has been study­ing the emo­tional con­di­tion for more than three decades.

Just about ev­ery­one – sin­gle, mar- ried, wid­owed, with chil­dren or with­out – has had tem­po­rary bouts of feel­ing dis­con­nected. But “be­ing alone does not al­ways equate to lone­li­ness,” says Rokach. “Soli­tude can be about do­ing things that are best done alone such as think­ing, read­ing, plan­ning, writ­ing and cre­at­ing.”

A life­style filled with ac­tiv­i­ties that ne­ces­si­tate pe­ri­ods of soli­tude and that peo­ple find en­joy­able can be healthy as long as it is bal­anced with hav­ing per­sonal con­nec­tions with oth­ers. Lone­li­ness, on the other hand, is of­ten fraught with neg­a­tive feel­ings and men­tal ill­nesses such as anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion and can lead to fur­ther health prob­lems.

Lonely peo­ple re­port they feel re­jected and unloved. They get de­pressed and of­ten per­ceive them­selves as unattrac­tive. “If this goes on for a long time, they can be­come des­per­ate and, then, hope­less,” says Rokach. “When they com­pare them­selves to oth­ers, they feel in­fe­rior and worth­less. Part of the prob­lem with lone­li­ness in our so­ci­ety is that it is stig­ma­tized so peo­ple

don’t go around telling oth­ers they feel lonely.”

Con­versely, even those who live with some­one can ex­pe­ri­ence feel­ings of lone­li­ness. Hav­ing per­sonal con­nec­tions with oth­ers is a ba­sic hu­man need. We all want to feel loved and cared for, es­pe­cially by those we live with.

Se­niors are es­pe­cially prone to lone­li­ness. Shrink­ing so­cial circles due to re­tire­ment, di­vorce or the loss of a spouse or friends through death or es­trange­ment, mo­bil­ity is­sues, di­min­ished hear­ing and eye­sight, are some of the rea­sons se­niors be­come so­cially iso­lated and, there­fore, more at risk of lone­li­ness.

Stats Canada re­ports that about one-third (33 per cent) of women were liv­ing alone in 2016, com­pared with only 17.5 per cent of men.” The good news is that the per­cent­age of se­nior women liv­ing alone is down since 2001 when 38 per cent of women lived alone.

Re­ly­ing on a com­pi­la­tion of re­search that has been go­ing on for sev­eral decades, Rokach notes the link be­tween lone­li­ness and ad­verse health ef­fects. “We have found that lone­li­ness can pre­dict mor­bid­ity, ill­nesses and mor­tal­ity.” He points out that lonely peo­ple are more prone to hy­per­ten­sion, and they com­plain of sleep dis­tur­bances. More wor­ry­ing, he also found that for older peo­ple, lone­li­ness can has­ten de­men­tia.

But al­le­vi­at­ing lone­li­ness and avoid­ing its health ef­fects can be dif­fi­cult. Rokach’s own re­search in­di­cates that when peo­ple were asked how they cope with lone­li­ness, they say the first steps are re­flec­tion, re­al­iza­tion and ac­cep­tance. “If we are aware of it, that’s the first step. The sec­ond step is un­der­stand­ing the rea­son why some­one is lonely,” says Rokach.

“Is it be­cause I live in a spe­cific place? Is it be­cause I come across as too ag­gres­sive? Is it be­cause I mis­treat peo­ple? Some peo­ple are lonely since child­hood, and it’s in­ter­twined in their per­son­al­ity.”

In an era of so­cial me­dia sat­u­ra­tion, one would think that Face­book, In­sta­gram or Twit­ter could help al­le­vi­ate feel­ings of lone­li­ness. “No,” says Rokach. “They’re tem­po­rary re­place­ments and can­not re­place the hu­man touch. For some peo­ple, it can feel like since they have 10,000 ‘likes,’ they must be very pop­u­lar. But when they need some­one to re­late to, then they may feel the lone­li­ness even deeper than if they didn’t have In­sta­gram and all those things. So, when they need a hug or some­one to go out walking with, that’s when they re­al­ize peo­ple are elec­tron­i­cally avail­able, but that’s it.”

So what can lonely peo­ple do to get them out of their bub­ble? In both ru­ral and ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties across Canada, there are a num­ber of op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able for so­cial­iz­ing for those who rec­og­nize their need and de­sire for mak­ing new con­nec­tions to com­bat lone­li­ness. Most are affordable or free and made avail­able through pro­vin­cial min­istries, health re­gions or vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tions. A call to your local se­niors’ re­source cen­tre will put you in touch with the ap­pro­pri­ate sup­port needed.

Trans­porta­tion Some local health re­gions of­fer iso­lated se­niors taxi vouch­ers or spe­cial tran­sit ser­vice.

So­cial­iz­ing and Recre­ation Most com­mu­ni­ties of­fer pro­grams such as lunch so­cials, ex­er­cise classes, games, day trips, mu­si­cal events, etc. for a nom­i­nal fee or free.

Ther­apy or Coun­selling Ask your doc­tor for a re­fer­ral to speak with a coun­sel­lor at a gov­ern­ment men­tal health ser­vices of­fice (free) or with a pri­vate psy­chol­o­gist or ther­a­pist.

Friendly Check-in Pro­gram Vol­un­teers are of­ten avail­able through se­niors’ re­source cen­tres to make friendly phone calls to shut-in clients. The pur­pose is to have a brief con­ver­sa­tion and to en­sure the se­nior is do­ing well.

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