In a March 2012 letter to fellow senior support co-ordinators, Brenda Tonn wrote she was in bed, staring at the ceiling, when an idea came to her.
How could she change "one of the leading causes of death in the elderly," the Plumas, Man. resident asked herself.
She realized the answer was to use her network of resource co-ordinators to start a week that is "about awareness of those who are alone, and encourage everyone to reach out to visit, call, and/or reconnect with someone who is by themselves," she said.
Thus was born Let No One Be Alone Week, which will be held May 5 to 11 this year.
Last year, Tonn says the initiative was acted upon in over 50 communities. In Winnipeg, Age and Opportunity, which has programs targeting social isolation, observed the week.
A friendly visit, a phone call, taking someone out for a meal or inviting them over for one are among Tonn’s suggestions for enhancing an isolated person’s life.
Linda Cameron, 66, counts herself lucky to have her husband and son at hand. The Brooklands resident used to do homecare work for an assisted living centre on Ness Avenue before emphysema forced her to retire at 55.
She recalls seniors who were alone and sat in their rooms all day with nobody to talk to. Part of the problem for them, which is one that she now has herself, is the challenge of even getting out of the house.
"I used to go to the wellness centre, but now, since I got sicker it’s just too much to get out," Cameron said.
The answer for her has been a program offered by Age and Opportunity called Senior Centre Without Walls – a free telephone group activities program.
"I’ve been doing this program for the last couple of months and I think everybody should know about it."
Group telephone sessions last from 30 minutes to an hour and include things like brain teasers, book readings, bingo, and meditation. Themes run the gamut from the Vancouver Aquarium to Across the Miles, where Americans are on the line.
Cameron phones in to share stories with the Better Breathers group – a Manitoba Lung Association initiative that brings together people facing respiratory illness to learn and share experiences.
"There’s a lot of tips that we share between us, like using a chair to sit down in the bathroom to brush your teeth. Not a lot of people think about that," Cameron said.
Ultimately anything that gets an isolated senior engaging with others is worthy, be it a phone call or a visit or even some small gesture, she said.
Cameron suggests younger, more able-bodied people can easily make a difference in someone’s life.
"Maybe you could push their garbage out for them, or just some little thing. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Next time you see a senior, smile at them."
For more information about Senior Centre Without Walls, or the many other programs at Age and Opportunity, call 204-956-6440.