By: Pat Kelly
There has never been a more urgent time to recognize and address the causes and effects of social isolation.
The emotional impact of loneliness and physical isolation and the importance of social relationships, especially on older adults, are now on everyone’s minds, given the confinement we live in during COVID-19.
At Ottawa-based Bronson RISE – Real Inclusion by Seniors Everywhere – our mission is to harness the power of Bronson Centre’s 35+ community organizations, to change the way we age.
Because there are a lot of things wrong with how we deal with aging. There are a lot of seniors who are hurting, because they are isolated from the people, places and activities that made their lives happier.
Here’s how we see the problem:
Older adults in our downtown Ottawa neighbourhood are often invisible.
Many seniors don’t feel safe walking or taking the bus alone – especially during COVID-19, and harsh winter weather.
Many feel lonely and don’t know where to find a friendly, welcoming place to go.
Aging is viewed through a lens of negativity.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to associate aging only with sickness, frailty and dependency, and our culture promotes outdated stereotypes of seniors—caught in the image of the old lady eating cat food, or the slumped nursing home patient in a gown.
While COVID has highlighted the vulnerability of older Canadians in long-term care, aging is not only about frailty or impairment.
Our neighbourhood is home to almost 3000 older adults, half of whom live alone, who have been coming to the Bronson Centre for years — to socialize at our many seniors-led organizations, volunteer, work, and enjoy music and events in the Phoenix Auditorium.
When COVID hit the neighbourhood and the Centre shut down, we looked for new ways for seniors to stay connected, healthy, active and informed. Through phones, laptops and other devices, Bronson Centre organizations came together to learn how to Zoom, practice chair yoga, share books and stories, even go for virtual nature walks.
Supportive environments – like the Bronson Centre and our near-by neighbours at the Good Companions Seniors Centre and Centretown Community Health Centre – enable people to feel safe and welcome, to do what is important to them, despite losses due to health and other problems. The availability of safe and accessible community centres, public buildings and transport, and environments that are easy to walk around with friendly people are examples of supportive environments.
For many older adults, our older years are our best ones and we are seizing the most valuable time of our lives to fulfill ourselves, our families and our communities.
This is what Bronson RISE stands for – positive change in how we think about and experience ageing.