The province is reminding you to reach out to a senior over the holiday season.

That’s what Maria van Sloun, a volunteer driver and companion to three seniors through the James Bay Community Project, also recommends. 

When asked why she volunteers in her community, van Sloun said, “Seniors are so appreciative that someone comes to visit them once a week. I do believe when people live alone, it’s easier to get lonely and depressed. I’ve seen big changes when I start coming to take them out, and then suddenly they start to seek out more opportunities to branch out.”

Minister of Health Adrian Dix says the province is committed to helping seniors live socially engaged and independent lives at home.

van Sloun added, “Driving seniors to medical appointments, grocery shopping and sometimes for just a milkshake provides a huge boost. It accomplishes two things at once – transportation and companionship. They just love it, and I love it too. It gives me a very nice warm feeling to be doing this, and I feel like I am making a difference.”

van Sloun is right about the physical and emotional benefits of some good social company. 

Social isolation is on the rise in Canada. 

In 2017, 44 percent of Canadians saw friends at least a few times a week, a decrease from 56 percent in 2003. 

Statistics also show that Canadians saw family less frequently, with 26 percent seeing family a few times a week in 2017, compared to 38 percent in 2003. 

The harmful effects of social isolation and loneliness have been compared to smoking and obesity.

As an Island Health dietician for 25 years, van Sloun visited seniors’ centres and care homes where she saw the huge need for companionship from seniors that she found were often starving for attention. 

“They just need someone to talk to and to do something with,” she said.

Simple things you can do for a senior in your life or community:

  • call a senior in your life;
  • have the grandkids video chat or call their grandparents, aunts, uncles or family friends;
  • offer to run an errand with them to get them out and about;
  • take them out for a treat;
  • bring your kids/and or pets to a care home, if they allow it;
  • offer a ride to their next appointment; and
  • offer to fix or manage something they have trouble with.

The province says that, through the regional health authorities, it has provided approximately $1.23 million to 13 community organizations throughout British Columbia to improve transportation services for seniors. 

The government adds that reliable transportation can help prevent seniors from being cut off from friends, family and social activities.