Seniors Calling ~ Staying Connected in the age of Covid

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photo courtesy the Ontario Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility on twitter. @SeniorsON

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams has urged senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems or underlying medical conditions to stay at home – shelter in place.

“We take seriously the advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, and we’re working to put an iron ring of protection around our seniors from COVID-19,” said Premier Doug Ford in a media release in May, 2020.  “I know asking our seniors to stay at home will not be easy as it will mean inconvenience, isolation and significant change in routine. That’s why we are encouraging everyone to reach out and support them, whether it’s delivering their prescriptions or picking up the phone and giving them a call. It will all make a positive difference to our most vulnerable citizens.”

Seniors who have maintained an active lifestyle through belonging to groups, organizations and clubs, faith communities, active volunteering and more, have had to implement new strategies to maintain general health and well-being. Technology has certainly helped seniors stay connected in the age of COVID, but not every senior has access to internet. Calling on a grandchild for support to problem solve an internet connection question or how to use technology such as ‘facetime’ and ‘zoom’ is made more difficult when that same grandchild can’t physically enter a space where their grandparent is ‘sheltering in place’.

Statistics are showing that Internet access rates among Canadian seniors grew from 32.2% in 2007 to 68.2% in 2016. The 2016 ‘Canadians at Work and Home’ survey revealed that older Canadians are making large inroads into the digital world. The survey revealed that internet use among seniors increased markedly from 2013 to 2016.

The perceived complexity of Internet use and technology has been a barrier for some senior citizens. Pre-retirement Internet use is a key factor in Internet use and non-use among seniors. People with pre-retirement exposure to computers are nine times more likely to be online than seniors without pre-retirement exposure.

The top four technological devices seniors owned in 2016 were desktop computers, laptops or netbooks, tablets or e-readers, and smart phones. Overall, 7 in 10 seniors reported that technology helped them to communicate.

In Canada, the number of adults over age 65 is increasing rapidly. There will be 9 million Canadian seniors by 2031, or 25% of our population. Chronic disease disproportionately affects older adults in terms of disability and reduced quality of life. In fact, a majority of seniors are living with at least one chronic disease or condition. As a result, there are far reaching implications for our healthcare system through the increased demand of an aging population.

Fortunately, scientific evidence has shown that Healthy Aging can prevent, delay and minimize the severity of chronic disease and disabilities later in life, thus improving personal health and reducing pressure on health care systems.

The Ontario government has invested $10 million to help community organizations with the coordination of subsidized deliveries of meals, medicines and other necessities to seniors. At the time, the investment doubled the government’s initial commitment in ‘Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19‘. The government is also working with grocers and pharmacists to prioritize seniors’ delivery orders and establish senior-only shopping hours.

The message that ‘we are all in this together’ is one that continues to resonate, and none more important than our senior citizens and those who are vulnerable. Looking out for one another is the ‘Canadian’ way. We must not confuse ‘physical distancing’ with being unavailable, detached, or isolated to the point where the measures taken to protect a vulnerable person, can, in fact, harm them. Contact, daily check-ins, face-time, and zooming are all being employed as never before in the age of COVID. Faith communities have increasingly embraced technology ~ many using facebook, zoom and other platforms to offer worship services.

The resilience of the human spirit will continue to propel citizens forward through the pandemic. What we are all called to be, are guardians of our most vulnerable. Reaching out to our senior citizens is a moral imperative.

Next week’s ‘Seniors Calling’ column will feature the City of Sault Ste. Marie‘s Rick Borean
Supervisor, Senior Services and guests. “In light of COVID-19 and physical distancing guidelines, Seniors Services has altered its program delivery methods and citizens aged 55+ can access programming by telephone and video conference.”

For further information on ‘Ontario Seniors Connect’ visit the Ontario government website.

Stay safe out there.