Aside from trips to the grocery store or doctor’s office, COVID-19 has confined many Canadians to their homes. A staple of daily life – human interaction – has been greatly diminished. But for older adults, social isolation can be a daily challenge, regardless of the pandemic. Over time this can affect mental and physical health.
Charlene Nadalin started to worry about her mother after her father passed away. “When my mother was widowed, there was not a huge support group. I became a little concerned about her quality of life and well-being.”
“My husband and my two children were my life,” says Marge Nadalin, now 76. Her other focus was the family construction business and when she retired her social network became even more curtailed. “My social life in a sense was communicating with customers. I’m not a party person.”
Charlene wanted to help – but how? She was a corporate executive in Toronto while her mother lived thousands of kilometers away in Florida. “What could I do from a distance to ensure my mom continued to live a happy and healthy life?” she wondered. I started asking my friends questions and speaking with physicians about what they were seeing with their patients. I learned that social isolation is a growing epidemic among mature adults.”
Nadalin’s research led her to conclude that what many older adults crave is friendship. “The real gap,” she says, “is in platonic connectedness, not dating.” To fill the gap, she left her corporate job to develop an app to help adults aged 50+ find new friends.
Her company, Amintro, launched the free app in 2018. New members answer a series of questions about their background and interests: Do they like walks or movies? Do they have grandchildren? Where did they grow up and where do they live now?
“Once the onboarding process is completed, our algorithms are designed to identify several Amintronians nearby with whom members have commonalities,” Nadalin explains.
Amintro provides ice-breaker questions to help get conversations started. From there, members can decide if they’d like to speak by phone or meet in person. “The objective is to make connections online to facilitate communication,” Nadalin says. “But at the end of the day, we advocate that our members meet in person – though not, of course, during these times of social distancing.”
If Amintro is about helping people connect, Nadalin has found that AGE-WELL fills a similar role for her business. Amintro became an AGE-WELL startup affiliate in 2019.
“AGE-WELL has opened doors for me to grow professionally and for Amintro as a whole,” she says. “The support and opportunities to connect with other professionals have been wonderful.”
AGE-WELL facilitated a focus group of older adults and caregivers who provided insights to help Nadalin continue developing the app. More connections were built when she hosted an Amintro exhibition booth at AGE-WELL’s annual conference in 2019.
“It was the first time that I was in the presence of a multitude of individuals and organizations with a shared interest in doing good for society,” Nadalin says. “Meeting so many incredibly talented, driven, compassionate, intelligent people was absolutely wonderful.”
Nadalin sees Amintro as not just an app but a supportive online community. And when the COVID-19 pandemic broke, she wanted to help. She posted a printable card to be dropped into the mailboxes of older neighbours. The card offers a contact name and phone number to call for help with groceries or mail delivery, or just for a friendly chat.
Nadalin has also created Amintro Connects, a Facebook group for people of all ages to share thoughts and feelings, and access information on services for older adults, during the pandemic.
“Now more than ever, they are in need of extra steps to ensure the impact of social distancing doesn’t lead to more serious health implications,” Nadalin says. “We are making sure our members feel supported, educated, and most importantly, not alone during these challenging and isolating times.”
To learn more about Amintro, watch this YouTube video.