In honour of Cheer up the Lonely Day, celebrated every year on July 11th, Closing the Gap Healthcare is placing a spotlight on Keeping Connected; a service that supports lonely seniors through planned social interactions on the phone.
Loneliness in seniors
“It is estimated that more than 1.3 million seniors in Canada suffer from chronic loneliness.” Studies indicate that health deterioration is twice as high (24.8% vs. 12.5%) when seniors are lonely. It can lead to mental health issues, dementia, depression, and high blood pressure among other things. Paramedics in Winnipeg have reported seniors contacting 911 and arriving at the emergency room, just to have someone to converse with.
In 2013, Closing the Gap Healthcare had to admit more than 3,000 seniors into our physiotherapy program over a short period of time. To ensure clients were safe, the company decided to call every client who wasn’t going to be seen within the first 7-10 days of admittance. What was going to be a 2-3 minute call turned into a 10-20 minute conversation about their life. The seniors were just happy to hear from someone and wanted to talk!
Our call companions are individuals that make these calls and provide emotional support to lonely seniors. Their job is to pick up on potential warning signs, including skipping or missing medication, falls or consistently feeling down. These ‘risk indicator’ questions are woven into the conversation and escalated to the appropriate management depending on the response. Guidelines and protocol are provided to the call companions to ensure that nothing is missed and everyone is well taken care of.
So, meet Hina and Carole; the dynamic duo that runs Keeping Connected here at Closing the Gap Healthcare. They were recruited for this role when the idea was tested as a pilot project and have successfully been in the role for the last 4 years.
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Carole’s favourite part about her job is listening to her clients’ stories and having the opportunity to learn from the wealth of knowledge they have to offer. She states that, “Keeping Connected provides a safe place for somebody to be able to speak, a place of confidentiality, a place where they feel comfortable and where their stories can be heard”. Some of Carole’s clients mention that they do not speak to anyone but Carole about certain things.
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Through this program, Hina feels that she is able to make a difference. One of her clients was in the market for a certain product but did not know how to go about finding an affordable option that was also easily accessible to her. Hina helped her out by doing some research online and found the item in the client’s price range, and available at a store nearby. Her client ended up buying the product based off of Hina’s recommendation and was very thankful.
Clients have described this program as a form of ‘phone therapy’. They’ve developed a relationship of trust with their respective call companion and feel comfortable talking to them about their problems, seeking advice, or even just chatting about their day. Hina and Carole consider their clients as ‘family’. Carole described an incident where one of her clients was praying for Carole’s daughter since they knew she was undergoing surgery. ‘It’s more than just talking, it’s helping solve issues” says Carole. According to Connie Clerici, Founder of Closing the Gap Healthcare, “Keeping Connected has proven to be a meaningful, high impact support system that empowers our seniors to remain at home safely with their independence”.
We can often find it challenging speaking to the elderly; especially when they may have hearing problems, cognitive illnesses, or even strong opinions. According to Carole, “Every human being wants to be loved and appreciated. Older people are too easily cast aside because they can’t do everything as fast as we would like”.
This serves as a reminder that no matter how difficult it can be sometimes, our parents, grandparents, family, and friends crave the same things we do; an emotional connection. Just 10-15 minutes of our time every week is often enough to make them smile. Hina claims, “I’ve seen the difference in confidence between someone that has family support and someone that has no family to fall back on”.
We encourage you to make time to call your loved ones that may be alone and check in on them more often. You never know the difference you could be making in someone’s day!