As we age, one of the biggest threats to our independence is social isolation. And the need to keep seniors mentally engaged in their communities has never been greater. Kahir Lalji, the provincial program manager of Better at Home and Active Aging, an organization dedicated to helping senior citizens with day-to-day tasks so they can continue to live independently in their own homes, says there are close to 900,000 seniors in British Columbia alone, and by 2031 one in four of us will be an older adult. “No one wants to be forced to leave their community because they can’t access the services they need,” says Lalji. “But this is something we see happening in communities across the province.” That’s where the rest of us come in. Connecting with seniors provides a meaningful—and mutual—learning experience—and it doesn’t take much. “We’ve seen volunteers and clients build lasting friendships, and we’ve seen transformations in communities, too,” says Lalji. Here are three things you can do to connect:
- Be a good neighbour
Lalji recommends becoming part of a “natural system of social support,” which means you’re getting involved not because it’s your job, but because you genuinely care about your neighbours. For instance, if you’re going to the grocery store, pop by to check in on a senior down the street to see if he or she could use a carton of milk. “It’s a way for neighbours to monitor the health of older adults in the community,” says Lalji.
- Leverage your skills
Think about what you do best and use your skills as a way to get involved. Great at knitting? Start a club at a local seniors’ residence or community centre. If you’re an accountant, set up a financial planning clinic for older people. Using your own interests as a starting point for volunteering makes the experience more meaningful for everyone. “It’s a great opportunity to bring your understanding, knowledge and skills to the community,” says Lalji.
- Strike the right balance
It’s not always about doing things for seniors; it’s about doing things with them, says Lalji. Often the best relationships start with providing a service (such as shopping, yard work, minor repairs or transportation) in order to develop a more meaningful relationship. “Providing these types of services is a place from which to build a rapport,” says Lalji. “Then it can be about having a cup of tea, playing cards or going for walks together.”
Want to help the seniors in your neighbourhood? Check out Better at Home’s website to find an opportunity near you. United Way manages 67 Better at Home programs across the province, and these programs rely heavily on volunteers to provide services to seniors, including light yard work, transportation, snow shovelling and regular social visits.