COVID has revealed vulnerabilities among local seniors that were there prior to the pandemic.
That’s a key finding from January’s seniors isolation summit hosted by the community group Langley Seniors in Action (LSA).
“COVID also exposed the extent to which gaps in income are filled through community programs and services like internet at a library, or discounted community meal programs, or other services that help seniors make ends meet,” says Isobel Mackenzie, BC Seniors Advocate.
She was the keynote speaker for the summit.
“We need to do better in supporting seniors in Long Term Care. The reaction of Canadians at large is that our current level of care is not acceptable.”
LSA plans to take the findings of the summit as the jumping off point for continued work on the issue of isolation.
This virtual summit involved 50 participants including 20-plus seniors and representing 26 organizations, with the aim to explore social isolation and collectively identify practical solutions.
Panelists included Debra Hauptman, CEO of Langley Lodge; Dr. Beverly Pitman, Senior Regional Community Development, United Way; and Shannon Woykin, executive director of Langley Meals on Wheels Services Society. LSA is a senior-led organization of volunteers that includes seniors, and community organizations that support seniors.
“We were pleased to bring our community together with the goal to find practical solutions to keep our older adults connected” said Paul Crump, LSA president. “We’ve already started work on several action items including the rollout of the Seniors Social Isolation Survey to determine the needs of seniors in our community. We look forward to keeping the community updated through our monthly LSA Hub meetings, our web site and social media.”
Coming out of the summit was the creation of working groups to tackle a variety of issues, including:
• Surveying the seniors of Langley regarding social isolation;
• Expanding upon an intergenerational letter writing project;
• Advocating for changes in government policies;
• Increasing public awareness of social isolation; and
• Improving transportation options.
“Attending the Summit reminded me of how a community can intervene when a significant number of their residents are undergoing an enormous change in their lives,” said summit participant Sheila Pither, president of the Council of Senior Citizens Organizations of BC (COSCO). “Langley has realized that those who are well must help those who need to be cherished, not merely tolerated. So, congratulations for what was more than just educational. It was a call to action that will be heeded.”
Social isolation emerged as a key issue during several meetings of the LSA and its precursor, the Langley Seniors Community Action Table. The plan was to hold a summit in May 2020 but it was remounted as a virtual event in January 2021 due to COVID.
The pandemic has increased seniors isolation from family, friends, and neighbours, food insecurity, and financial fragility.
Seniors are a growing proportion of the population of the Langleys – rising from 16 per cent of the population in 2019 to 22 per cent in 2039, according to LSA.
For many, the people who help seniors from various agencies or programs were often the only ones they interacted with on a regular basis.
“Meals on Wheels contributes to social engagement by creating bonds between volunteers and clients, along with a safety check, client referrals to services, and advocacy to support clients to live independently in their own homes. COVID 19 led to the need to find new ways to serve everyone, with now over 50 per cent of clients being subsidized and living with food insecurity,” noted Woykin.
LMOW had to cancel its in person Food and Friends program but modified it to use technology so seniors could take part virtually through its Food and Friends at the Farm intergenerational online gathering.
Many agencies and programs have said they have had to use more technology since COVID to provide service to seniors but that’s not without issues.
“We think they are active in our interconnected, virtual world – but only because of those environments that allowed them [isolated seniors] access to internet – and all of that was shut down in Phase 1 and that has not fully opened. But that’s been a revelation around the precariousness disproportionately of seniors because they are not connected to technology in part because of the financial cost and in part the inability to use technology,” noted Mackenzie. “So we need to recognize the impact that would have.”
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