02/09/2018 09:26 EST | Updated 02/09/2018 09:26 EST

Reach Out And Be A Friend To A Senior Living Alone

A simple gesture could make a tremendous difference to someone and may even open the door to a new relationship.

Every morning John Diestl gets up very early to prepare breakfast for himself and his wife Katy.

It is a routine that he believes is the cornerstone to their almost 62 years of marriage. It is not the breakfast that is important but what happens after, for at least an hour the pair just talk to each other — what John describes as the best part of the day.

After more than six decades together, you would think that every thing that could be said had already been expressed a number of times. And yet, having this ongoing and regular conversation according to health experts has tremendous mental and physical benefits.

Katy & John Diestl

As more and more Canadians reach retirement age — for the first time in our history we have more people aged 65 years and older than children aged 15 years and younger — we need to recognize the need to have a support system in place for the elderly.

And this is not just a Canadian problem, earlier this year the UK announced it had created, for the first time, a Minister for Loneliness. This post was set up to tackle the social and health issues caused by isolation in the UK, which is a growing problem for its aging population. The report that prompted the action, found some elderly people had not had a conversation with a friend or a relative in over a month.

Should the Canadian government follow the U.K.'s lead? Certainly, the Feds need to do more than just talk about creating a National Seniors' Strategy. In a world that is so interconnected it is ironic that elderly people can feel so isolated.

Some of our franchisees at Heart to Home Meals tell me their delivery to a senior's home is sometimes the only interaction the customer has had in days. We as a country need to do better.

The effects of loneliness are stark. Lonely people suffer higher blood pressure and are more likely to develop dementia. Being isolated also affects a number of basic functions (like sleep patterns) that most of us take for granted.

While there's been substantial research into loneliness in recent years, a lot has focussed on the physical downside and not always considered the mental cost.

Happiness is an emotion that thrives when it is shared. John and Katy instinctively know this, hence the importance they place on spending quality time with each other every morning.

Katy & John Diestl

A conversation with them rarely strays from their favourite subject: family life. They met as teens in downtown Toronto and after they got married they moved in with John's parents and lived with them for 30 years. Weekends, for decades, were about bringing all family members together and sharing quality time with each other.

Aging may have slowed them down but they still host the important occasions like Christmas every year.

It takes me days to prepare, as I do my own baking and all the cooking, but I love when they are all here.Katy Diestl

This is a viewpoint that many Canadians can relate to, as this is a typical story for members of that generation. But an aging population means seniors are likely to find themselves living alone after their spouse passes away. It is important for family and friends to be aware of the changes that are likely to take place. Remember, this rarely happens abruptly. Usually it is a number of factors that gradually result in a person slipping into this state.

The feeing of being alone is not unusual but only becomes debilitating when it is the prevailing mindset.

Valentine's Day is celebrated because it's an opportunity to express your devotion to a loved one, on the flip side it can be a very difficult day for others. While people use Valentine's Day to take a break from their hectic lives and get back to the basics of human interaction, it could also be an opportunity to contact a person living alone.

All of us should consider reaching out to someone this year. It could be a neighbour, or a friendship that has lapsed or even a distant relative. A simple gesture could make a tremendous difference to someone and may even open the door to a new relationship.