Seniors and Covid-19 in Canada – Sadness, and Anger

Seniors and Covid-19 in Canada – Sadness, and Anger

Fondly remembering the year 2020 will certainly not be the case for most. The covid-19 pandemic, which hit hard around the world in so many ways, was especially catastrophic for the elderly in retirement or nursing homes and for people with underlying medical conditions.

According to a Canadian Government website, “While COVID-19 can make anyone sick, older Canadians are at a higher risk of developing serious complications. Use the following resources to learn how you can prevent COVID-19 and find tips on taking care of your physical and mental health.” Source:

https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19/resources-older-adults-caregivers.html

It is not surprising to many that countries like Canada were unprepared to react to a global pandemic. Previous pandemics such as SARS, H1N1, MERS, and Ebola tended to be looked at by many as a localized situation instead of as a global one and often as a more or less one-time event. After each pandemic, governments failed to either develop a strategy for the future or if they did, failed to act on it. 

Most past and present Federal, Provincial, and Municipal governments ignored the warnings from the health and scientific communities, as well as, senior’s health-related advocacy groups.

Yet again, had serious attention been given to the results of the 2016 census, and the 2019 estimated numbers, governments could have seen that the significant annual increase year over year, of the percentage of the senior population, would require serious attention sooner instead of an unfocused reaction during a worldwide pandemic. 

For example, data on the growing number of seniors:

  • Seniors 65 and over = 16.9% (5,9 Million)
    • Source – 2016 Census: https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/hlt-fst/as/Table.cfm?Lang=E&T=11
  • Estimated as of July 2019 = 17.5% (6,6 Million) 
    • Source – 2019 estimates: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190930/dq190930a-eng.htm

As it pertains to the growing number of seniors, the standard and current health care models no longer address and meet their specific needs. 

Though various advocacy groups (CARP, etc.) and seniors themselves have raised issues, challenges, and pitfalls on countless occasions, reality has shown that various levels of governments have mainly ignored or responded superficially, using typical convoluted speeches and announcements (akin to Corporate levels of PR messaging) with little to no long term impact.

No substantive talks have been held between various levels of governments with the intent of producing clear strategies and action plans to be implemented and followed-up on in order to ensure success and meaningful change.

In the early ’80s, after my father passed away from a heart attack in his sleep, my mother suffered a very debilitating stroke and spent several months at the Neurological Institute in Montreal. One of the unfortunate side effects of her stroke was that she also developed sight complications and was declared legally blind. Many years later, we would discover a very different cause and corrected that situation.

After several months of recovery, her doctors informed the family that they had done what they could and strongly suggested that she should go into a nursing home to further recover.

As the youngest child, I had been ill during my early formative years and my mother had cared for me for nearly two years until I could go back to school. During this time, we established a very strong bond.

As I matured, I reflected on the time my mother had cared for me and I decided that should my parents ever need me during their senior years that I would do everything in my power to be there for them.

Therefore, when my mother’s doctors and my siblings agreed to put our mother in a nursing home, I was not only appalled but I was also angry that my siblings were ready to give up so easily.

My reaction was swift. The answer was no! Based on previous conversations on the subject, I knew mother preferred to go back to her own home with some additional support and adjustments.

Arrangements were made and a live-in companion was hired. To be honest, it is not always easy to find the right person. It took a couple of attempts to find the gem that would care for my mother for nearly ten years.

Simple and inexpensive adjustments to her house were made to increase her comfort, safety, and wellness. As an example, by moving her bedroom from the second floor to the main floor, near the washroom, this eliminated the need to use the long stairway, which was quite challenging because of her frailness.

For ten years, I replaced my mother’s companion every other weekend to give her some time off, as well as, vacation time. During my time with my mother, I prepared all of the meals, engaged with her in conversation about our lives since the last encounter, the past and the future. After she had regained her strength, we would sometimes go shopping and stop in to see some of her friends who lived in the village nearby.

Additionally, I often suggested to her that whenever she was ready, she was welcome to come and live with me. Her response was always the same. “One day maybe but I am not ready now.”

One spring day, after ten years of being her weekend, birthday, and holiday caregiver, she called me in-between visits and said: “Is the offer still good?” I responded by saying to her, “Yes, of course, it is.”

Six months later, after enjoying her last summer in her home on the farm in the Eastern Townships, she arrived in her new home I had bought to meet her needs, located just outside of Ottawa in the green belt area, which had few houses and plenty of trees for shade. It was quiet and private and only a short distance to the city that offered the amenities she might need.

The one-acre lot on which the bungalow stood had lots of space, trees, bushes, and flower gardens. It even had a vegetable patch and a very spacious and shaded patio on the same level as the main floor.

Sadly, I encountered quite a bit of push back from various social services during these months of getting organized and ready for my mother’s arrival. They were not used to having a man/son care for his mother. They wanted to know how much money I made, where would we be living, why I was doing this, and so on.

The only good thing that came out of this third-degree inquiry is that at the time the Province of Ontario had a support program that provided a support worker three hours a day, Monday through Friday. After a few months, and realizing that the relationship between my mother and the support worker was excellent, I supplemented an extra two hours per day. 

After finding a geriatric doctor, he set up for her to have the Victoria Order of Nurses visit weekly to check up on her health as she still had lesions on her legs which required a regular change of bandages.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, I learned a lot from being the principal family caregiver to my mother for fourteen years.

Though it took me several years to complete it, I decided to write a book, entitled ‘Lasting Touch – A Mother and Son’s Journey of Joy, Challenges, Sadness, and Discovery.’ As a society, it is still relatively rare for a son to take on the role of a caregiver to a parent though there are more of them making this important contribution then when I was a caregiver.

I wanted to share our experiences while hoping to encourage more sons or other male family members to take a more active role, especially when there are no major medical conditions that would be outside one’s expertise or capacity.

Reflecting on what has transpired during the onslaught of the covid-19 pandemic since early 2020, I sometimes wonder if some of the elderly victims had, unfortunately, not taken the time to reflect on what they could do to remain in their own homes (or a downsized one or with a family member) instead of choosing or being influenced to go into a retirement home. It is true that sometimes, medical challenges provide few alternatives other than a nursing home, however, at the same time, there are many instances (estimated at around 30%) where this is not the case.

I can appreciate and understand some of these decisions. Unfortunately, our health care systems are too focused on pills, procedures, and placement options instead of on lifestyle changes such as healthier diets, exercise, and most importantly home care support.

For both the ageing parents and for family members, having and being a family caregiver does require some reflection; a lot of conversation with each other; and an analysis of the specific needs, and challenges. In other words, every aspect of family caregiving. Most important, is the will by everyone involved to make it all possible.

I have shared our story, the joys, and the challenges, as well as, the lessons learned along the way. I have attempted to emphasize various changes and adaptations that can be done to render the chosen home more senior-friendly, comfortable, and secure, with a focus on eliminating or minimizing safety risks such as:

  • Removing or tying down risky situations: area rugs, extension cords, removing/selling/giving away furniture that is no longer required in order to create more space to walk without obstructions, etc.,
  • Reducing sizes of purchased or stored items for easy manipulation (milk, jars, cans, left-over containers), etc.,
  • And so many more.

Since “Lasting Touch” was published in 2017, I have continued my research and have spoken on the subject of “Ageing Comfortably In The Home Of Your Choice” to elders and future family caregivers looking for a way forward.

I am currently in the process of writing a sequel dedicated to ensuring comfort and security in your chosen home. The current working title is “Living in the Home that meets my/our needs”

Feel free to contact me for assistance at lastingtouchbook@gmail.com – The book can be ordered through this web site or via Chapters/Indigo, and Amazon in paperback and on most e-reading formats.

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