Spectrum's CEO Sandra Ketchen on Seniors Month and lessons we can learn for better supporting seniors year round.
The theme for Seniors Month in Ontario this year was “Stay safe, active and connected” as designated by the Ministry of Seniors. And this year I reflect on a year of change, hardship and uncertainty for seniors, but also the incredible resilience, courage and determination shown by this generation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The topics of safety, activity and connectedness remain more relevant than ever.
We know that the vast majority of seniors want to stay and age at home with support as needed. And as far as safety goes, it’s the safest place for them. During the COVID-19 pandemic, home care was a demonstrably safer option for elder care versus facility-based living. The home care sector’s unique ability to care for one patient at a time was a significant factor in the containment of virus transmission. We also see this trend every year during the annual flu surge – seniors with home care are much less exposed and infected at only a fraction of the rate versus any congregate setting. Safety though is also about ensuring living spaces are clear of trip hazards, that refrigerators are stocked with nutritional foods, and that family members and physicians can easily monitor status and provide intervention as required. We see that seniors with this kind of community and primary care support wrapped around them are able to age at home longer and with better outcomes.
Regardless of our age, lockdowns have made us all miss activity, movement, and the outdoors. In an effort to stay safe we have limited our mobility, a crucial element of overall physical and mental health. As we enter Step 2 of the re-opening plan here in Ontario, let’s all remember that our seniors, regardless of where they live, also miss group activity whether inside or out. Think about the seniors you know, whether they are family, neighbours or friends. Regardless of where they live, are they getting out and getting active once again? There is a saying that ‘it takes a village’ to raise a child – it also ‘takes a community’ to support a senior. Let’s not forget them as we move back to the normalcy we are all craving. I smile when I think about my 83-year old mother playing golf up in Tobermory this week.
Studies show that loneliness and isolation have a negative impact on our physical health, which is why staying connected is so important for both mental and physical well-being. The isolation experienced by seniors living in long term care facilities this year was heart breaking and a true challenge for both residents and their families who were precluded from visiting. When seniors are able to age at home, they remain connected not only to their immediate physical surroundings, but also to their neighborhoods, communities, local services and their extended families. Admittedly, aging at home is not a possibility for everyone based on their unique circumstance. Long term care with the right investment and care supports can be a good option. However, the best way to keep our seniors connected to what and who is meaningful to them is to give them the choice to live, age and die, wherever and however they feel most appropriate for them. Let’s empower them to find and keep those connections.
Even though Senior’s Month may have come to a close, think about a senior either in your life or in your community. Are they staying safe, have they re-engaged with activities, and are they staying connected to what matters most to them? We can all do more if we just ask the question – how can I help?