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How I fight loneliness as a senior with a disability

This writer might not have The Golden Girls' lifestyle, but she’s making the best of her golden years.

By Dorothy Palmer

When I daydreamed about retirement many years ago, I longed to live like The Golden Girls: sharing a large house in sunny Florida with rich, energetic and hilarious friends.

But my reality is quite different. I’ve been retired for a decade now, and while I do have friends like Rose, Blanche, Sophia and Dorothy, none of us are wealthy. My friends and family are scattered. I use a walker and live in a land nothing like Florida. Canada stubbornly insists on hosting a winter wonderland. I live the way so many Canadian seniors do: alone, in increasing disability and financial insecurity, fighting loneliness and isolation.

A recent report by the National Seniors Council paints a concerning picture of our golden years. Social isolation produces depression, anxiety, loneliness, reduced social skills and is a risk factor in falls, elder abuse, heart disease, mental health, suicide and mortality.

But here’s the good news: if we want a more golden life, we can make it for ourselves.

For many seniors, especially disabled seniors, Internet communities have become true life savers. On Twitter, Facebook and multiple chatrooms, I stay connected with friends real and virtual, even when I’m in too much pain to leave my bed. I reject the stereotype that seniors are technophobic. Many of us used computers for much of our working lives. If you’re a novice, libraries often offer beginner’s courses for free.

But nothing takes the place of face to face. The top recommendation to combat loneliness and isolation is always the same: join a club or activity you enjoy. I did try. I visited the knitting club in my apartment complex, only to discover that if I couldn’t minutely dissect the romantic peccadillos of The Young and the Restless, I had no right to be there. I equally struck out at a local book club, where three gentlemen kindly held court expecting the six female members to worship in silence.

Anything I join must be both physically possible and accessible. Given my whole-body arthritis, birdwatching, bowling or mall-walking aren’t possible. I can’t chop vegetables or stand at a stove, so volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen is out of the question. I’m secretly thankful for this, as I may be the only little old lady on the planet who truly hates to cook.

What is left that is both fun and realistic? This is where creativity comes in.

Here’s the key: whatever might enrich your golden years is already in your repertoire and within reach.

If you can’t find an activity, can you found one? A friend who loves to sing founded a ‘60s karaoke afternoon in a bar that gave her Tuesdays for free. A retired teaching friend set up Reading Buddies, matching seniors to students at his local elementary school. Another put up a sign in her laundry room founding Tina’s Travelling Teatime. Every Sunday, participants visit each other, bringing along all the goodies for tea. At her church, my cousin founded a Writing Our Memoirs group, sharing stories and creating lasting gifts for their grandchildren.

Here’s the key: whatever might enrich your golden years is already in your repertoire and within reach.

Helping yourself helps others. 

Seniors everywhere are getting really creative. There's even an elderly nightclub in the U.K.!

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