As countries around the world continue to impose measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, physical isolation is taking a toll on the health and well-being of seniors.
Laura Tamblyn Watts, Artsci’94, is a leading expert in elder law working to raise awareness about how dire the situation is for Canadian seniors, who are disproportionally affected by social isolation. She says studies show that “social isolation for older people is as dangerous to their health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
The current pandemic has also seen an increase in elder abuse across the country. “Some of the responders like Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario, police, national anti-crime centres are indicating that they’ve had 10 times the amount of calls and inquiries that they would have,” she says.
So how can we combat the effects of social isolation on seniors? Ms. Tamblyn Watts emphasizes the importance of intergenerationalism.
“If you look at who is most affected by depression and social isolation, it’s actually both older people and students,” she explains. Studies show that when students aged 18 to 24 connect with adults over the age of 70, the mental and physical well-being of both groups is significantly increased.
Ms. Tamblyn Watts reached out to her alma mater to discuss ways to build connections within the Queen’s community, which is how the Queen’s Community Connections Project was born.
The initiative aims to build intergenerational connections and reduce social isolation by connecting student volunteers with alumni over the age of 70 to check in regularly over the phone. They will be matched based on their degree, extracurricular involvement, or geography. Ms. Tamblyn Watts is offering resources for student callers through an online training session.
This is not the first time Ms. Tamblyn Watts started an initiative to bring awareness to an important cause. This year, she launched CanAge, a national seniors advocacy agency, where she is the chief executive.
“My passion for social justice was really formulated at Queen’s,” she says when asked what sparked her passion to help others. “I think part of the narrative we have at Queen’s is the community really does value social justice. It values giving back. It values not just having the concern but taking the next step. My time at Queen’s helped to hone those interests and give me the skills and the inspiration to try to institutionalize that change.”
Queen’s Community Connections Project: How to get involved
If you’re a Queen’s student interested in volunteering, sign up by completing this form. For any questions about the program, contact Gage Benyon.
If you are a Queen’s grad or if you know of any senior alumni who would benefit from a regular touchpoint with a student, send us an email.