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Empowering seniors: Jean’s journey illuminates the importance of social connection and caregiver support

4 MIN READ

Story Highlights:

  • Jean’s resilience shines as she navigates a new life post-stroke, finding joy and purpose through the support of her daughter and the welcoming community at the Good Companions Seniors’ Centre in Ottawa.

  • A United Way partner for more than 30 years, seniors’ programing at centres like The Good Companions foster belonging and friendship, combating social isolation and its detrimental effects on physical and mental health.

  • Caregivers like Michelle find relief and support through programs that provide respite and connection, highlighting the crucial role of social services and the support of United Way donors in enhancing the wellbeing of seniors and their families.

Embracing change: Jean’s journey through recovery and rediscovery

Jean was once quite independent. She used to get around on her own, visit friends, and shop without assistance. But after suffering a stroke, everything changed.

Jean wasn’t able to walk like she used to or use her hands the way she once did. The seemingly simple task of opening and closing her fists became a challenge. For a while, she lost her voice and couldn’t sing anymore.

Today, Jean lives with her daughter Michelle, who works full-time in addition to being a full-time caregiver.

When Michelle suggested that her mom might attend programs at The Good Companions Seniors’ Centre, Jean remembers scoffing at the idea. She said she wondered what she’d do there with all the “old people”. She laughs now at what she thought the centre was, and marvels at all that she’s learned, the friends she’s made, and how many activities she participates in.

From chair yoga to dance, puzzles, enjoying live music and conversations with her friends, there is never a dull moment.

Seniors’ centres foster belonging, friendship, and learning

Monique Doolittle-Romas, Executive Director of The Good Companions*, understands firsthand the many benefits the centre offers for people as they age.

*The interviews in this story were filmed in October 2023, prior to Monique Doolittle-Romas’ departure as Executive Director of The Good Companions.

“As we get older and our social network gets smaller, our friends may pass away. Or family. You’re always alone if you don’t have someone to live with. But you never have to be alone at the Good Companions.”

Monique also understands that social isolation has physical consequences. “We know that social isolation has a devastating impact on seniors. In fact it’s more dangerous than smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.

Ontario has more seniors than ever before, and this population will continue to grow. Centres like The Good Companions are needed to ensure individuals like Jean aren’t on their own, but have a place to feel belonging and friendship. More than that, the activities at the centre provide an opportunity for seniors to keep learning, which increases their confidence and self-esteem.

“I joined a program and I will learn how to play guitar, something I always wanted to do.”

Caregivers need support too

The Canadian Institute for Health Information indicated that unpaid caregivers are providing the equivalent care of a full-time job: 38 hours per week. So, it’s important that caregivers like Michelle also receive support.

Jean attends the Good Companions once each week, which gives Michelle a full day to focus on her career—dedicating herself completely to being present at the office. She doesn’t have to worry about her mother being alone or in need. Michelle takes comfort in knowing Jean is in good hands and taken care of. More than that, she knows her mother cherishes her time at the centre.

Jean is encouraged to try new things and participate in activities. She says contributing to the community makes her feel good about herself. Michelle notices the change in her mother’s vitality since she started attending.

“This program is so very vital to seniors, whether they have a caregiver at home or not.”

How donors help prevent isolation, and caregiver burnout

United Way East Ontario knows preventing loneliness and isolation is key to a senior’s wellbeing. We work with partners across Prescott-Russell, Ottawa, Lanark County, and Renfrew County to power a network of programs offering positive social connection for seniors, keeping them healthy and active in their homes and communities for longer.

For friends or family who have been thrust into a new world of responsibility as they care for a loved one, respite programs provide a huge relief—reducing burnout by giving caregivers an opportunity to recharge and connect with others.

United Way donors support research and data-driven decision making so that we can fuel smart investments in social, recreational, and peer programs. These services reduce isolation and improve the health and wellbeing of seniors, and their families.

Help local seniors and caregivers lead happy, healthy lives. 
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