For many elderly people, becoming lonely and isolated is a major concern, as is the prospect of physical and mental illness keeping them from getting out of the house and socializing. The pandemic has only exacerbated these worries, as elderly people have been confined to their homes or seniors’ residences for weeks on end to protect their health.
Social isolation is a critical issue: it has a profound impact on well-being and creates added health risks for seniors. A number of studies have linked loneliness and prolonged social isolation to a heightened risk of physical and mental health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cognitive decline and a weakened immune system, as reported by Dr. Paul Hébert, Medical and Science Advisor for the Canadian Red Cross, in a recent study by Leger.1
There are currently about 1 million seniors age 70 and over in Quebec, and this number will climb dramatically as the large cohorts of individuals born in the 1950s and 1960s get older. Sustained growth is expected until 2030, when the number of people age 70 and over will total an estimated 1.5 million.2
For seniors, feeling useful plays a big part in aging well. Volunteering, helping others, contributing to society and sharing knowledge are all great ways to gain this sense of purpose. For people over 55, the main reasons for volunteering are, in this order: contributing to the community, putting their skills and experience to good use, being personally affected by the organization’s cause, and improving their own health and well-being.3 In these ways, seniors help their communities and back causes similar to those supported by Desjardins. The most popular causes supported by seniors are health, local community services and youth.
Intergenerational activities provide opportunities for seniors to socialize, and they appreciate these kinds of initiatives very much. Young people can also learn a lot from such interactions, which give them a change to give back in their own way.
Although the number of people age 15 to 29 in Quebec has been stable for the past 20 years (around 1.5 million), this group’s demographic weight within the total population rose from 20% in 1996 to 18% in 2018.4
In terms of volunteering, young people appear to be gradually taking over for older people. According to Quebec City’s 211 information and referral centre, a large proportion of those who offer to help were born in the 1980s and 1990s. There’s a false assumption that young people aren’t that interested in volunteering. However, statistics show that young people are just as inclined to volunteer as older generations, but in a different way. Young people choose their activities based on what they see going around on social media, and participate on a more random, short-term basis, and not so much with local community organizations.5
The current crisis may well show young people that there are vulnerable people who could use their help, and they can also gain valuable experience that will serve them in the future.