By Dorothy Lowrie
If I had written an article about the importance of social connections for healthy aging in January or February of this year, the meaning of social connections would have been entirely different. In the past months, every country in the world has been faced with the need to modify social connections in light of the pandemic. For seniors, as the age group identified as “the most vulnerable” for contacting the virus, social distancing, while staying “socially connected” has been a challenge.
For seniors, and others, the amount of social connection within this new paradigm has become even more of a choice. Individuals can choose to connect many different ways through technology if they have access to it. With the weather improving, many groups have been meeting in parking lots or parks. Seniors living in residences have found ways to stay in touch through methods like doorway meetings every morning to check in with each other. New ways to take courses, or to visit, or to ensure their book club meeting continue through the use of technology, has ensured seniors can stay engaged. For those seniors who have access to technology, there are opportunities through many senior’s groups to get access and help.
For seniors in care, most institutions are offering window visits. Some have put up a small tent where you can arrange to meet your relative and keep to the social distancing requirements. The recreation therapists in these facilities have taken on a new role in managing these visits. My observation from my own experience with Capital Care is that the arrangements are excellent and the staff very helpful and accommodating.
So, you might ask, what is the problem? We are adapting to the requirements of the pandemic and in general, seniors, like others in our society, are finding ways to still connect.
The problem is that we are still forgetting those seniors who were already isolated before the pandemic. The ones in the senior’s facilities who do not have relatives to visit, the seniors living on their own, or the ones who cannot afford to belong to senior’s centers or groups.
As I mentioned in an earlier article, these seniors are in need of help and support. They lack advocates to support them regardless of where they are living. For example, seniors without family can be assigned public guardians through the government to assist them. The problem is, that in our system, these guardians are often overworked and assigned to such a large number of individuals that they cannot manage to visit these individuals regularly. The guardians are expected to manage the health, living arrangements, social activities, legal aspects etc. of the senior’s life. In January, I attended a presentation by Dr. Stephanie Chamberlain, PhD, from the University of Alberta. In her presentation, she introduced me to the problems seniors without family, or support, face in Alberta, specifically due to the lack of funding or availability of enough advocates. The problems range from something as simple as ensuring they don’t run out of toothpaste (or any item that care facilities do not provide) to ensuring someone can advocate for them during times of serious health issues.
The solution to these issues was problematic before the pandemic. With rising deficits that our governments now face, I believe these seniors are even more vulnerable. Society is going to have to look to other sources to support these individuals than just government funding. One possibility is that we look to corporations who could fund and support initiatives for seniors, under the umbrella of corporate social responsibility. Another possibility is that we become the support for just one senior, or senior couple, in our community. If each of us came alongside a senior, or senior couple without family, it could make such a difference in their lives.
The Bible tells us that to start action in heaven, we need to pray (1 Peter 3:12). I ask all of you to add to your daily prayers, a way forward for our society to support and help all seniors. I am praying too that God can also show me the way forward personally to help, in whatever way I can.