Today ‘The New York Times’ ran a disheartening story about a woman from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who posted an advertisement on Craigslist because she had nowhere to go for Christmas and was looking for a family that she could join over the holiday season.
The heartrending advertisement read:
“Anybody need a grandma for Christmas…I have nobody and would really like to be part of a family. I cook and I can cook dinner. I’ll even bring food & gifts for the kids! I HAVE NOBODY AND IT REALLY HURTS! Let me be a part of your family”.
The woman, who is only identified in The Times’ story as “Carrie”, received thousands of responses to her post (mostly positive and some, sadly, negative) and has since been invited into the homes of people all over America for the holidays. Carrie is fighting cancer, and is estranged from her daughter who refuses to let Carrie see her granddaughter.
Carrie’s story is a painful reminder of the loneliness and isolation encountered by many seniors in our society. As baby boomers age, and as life-expectancy rates climb, our society is experiencing an aging population demographic. According to Stats Canada, there are currently over 6 million seniors in this country, making up about 20% of our general population, and it is estimated that by 2030 the number of seniors Canadians will grow to be closer to 10 million, or one-in-four Canadians.
Social isolation is a problem that disproportionately effects elder adults, and particularly senior women. Canadian census data shows that about 25% of the population aged 65 and over live alone, and nearly half of all women over 75 live by themselves. Being removed from society in this manner, coupled with deteriorating health and changing social structures often encountered by seniors, can result in deleterious effects on isolated seniors. Social isolation can result in loneliness, anxiety, depression and other health-related issues. Further, the isolated elderly are acutely vulnerable to being abused or taken advantage of – oftentimes by individuals whom are actually relied on for care or support.
So while most of us surround ourselves with friends and loved ones over the holiday season, let us also take time to acknowledge those less fortunate, including a growing population of isolated elders in this country. We should be mindful that the eldest among us can, at times, also be the most lonely and the most vulnerable, and our collective efforts should be focused on ensuring that these individuals remain included and involved in our social fabric.