COVID-19, a difficult time for seniors

“I feel so alone. But there’s nothing you can do about it except, accept it” said Edna Roth, the 80-yr old Burns Lake resident, who lives at the local assisted living facility, Tweedsmuir House.

Roth has been in and out of surgeries for the past year. After she experienced a heart failure, she was rushed to the hospital where she had to undergo five operations due to several complications. By the time she got out of Prince George Hospital, the COVID-19 measures had already been put in place. After a long hospital stay, this isolation has been very difficult for Roth.

“I was in the hospital for my 80 birthday, so everyone said, when you get out of the hospital, we will have a big birthday party for you, but I haven’t even been able to meet with anyone and I will turn 81 in July,” she said.

Life for seniors in COVID-19 has proven to be especially taxiing. Seniors like Roth, living in independent living or assisted living facilities, would play games, have meals together with other seniors, meet up with each other. For many seniors, their families would often visit them or they would go out and visit their families.

“I have got lots of family here but I cannot visit with them outside of phone calls,” said Roth. Roth’s daughter comes in with her mail sometimes or when she needs anything from the grocery store. Apart from that however, she hasn’t been able to meet with the rest of her family for their safety, and hers. And that’s the case with a lot of seniors.

“That’s the hard part – to want to have contact with one’s grandchildren and extended family and not be able to, in order to protect oneself – makes it very, very challenging,” said Gord Poschwatta of Posch Counselling, who specializes in trauma. He also offered a few creative ways that he read about online, to stay emotionally connected with seniors in the family, of letting them know you still care. Apart from Skype and Facebook messenger, he talked about an interesting idea, “to communicate through windows, so that kids are able to see their grandparents, make up little posters for them, you know, things like that. So that they can still have social interaction, without physical contact.”

There is nevertheless, a lot of anxiety among the seniors. The population being vulnerable to the disease is a major reason behind this. This leads to increased feelings of anxiety, especially when isolation is added on top of it. Recognizing this, Poschwatta said that the senior population is at a much higher risk of such anxiety arising out of the pandemic but there aren’t many resources available for the old folks.

There are a few options for seniors living in Burns Lake for independent living and assisted independent living. Carroll Cottage and Heritage Manor are completely independent living options while the Tweedsmuir House and The Pines are for seniors who need some level of assistance along with independence. However, no resources specific to the pandemic are being offered to the seniors of Burns Lake. Northern Health also doesn’t offer anything COVID-specific. However, Andrea Palmer, the communications lead at NH confirmed that although they weren’t doing anything specific to the pandemic, “we have Mental Health Services for adults through the Mental Health Program and also access to the Geriatric Outreach team through referral by a Primary Care Provider.”

Poschwatta also commented on the lack of resources in general in Burns Lake due to it being a small town. He remarked at how the only counsellors available were either at Northern Health, a couple of private practitioners like him, the Carrier Sekani Family Services for anyone who needs any support and the First Nations Health Authority that cares for and covers the First Nations’ people. “That’s pretty much it in this town in terms of resources,” he said.

Although there is a lack of outside resources, at Tweedsmuir House, someone from the staff comes in to check up on the seniors, draw their blood if needed, and ensure they are medically alright. Roni Larsen, the Tweedsmuir House Manager has been checking up on the residents as and when she can and Roth is all praises for her. “Roni, is wonderful. She checks up on us everyday and makes sure we are okay, but outside of that there is nothing a person can do I guess,” she says.

For seniors like Roth, the province has outlined and listed a few resources that they could take advantage of on HealthLink BC, like Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre, COVID 19 Stress management tips from the Government of BC and First Nations Health Authority for mental health and cultural support.

Roth appreciates having that sort of support but knows that it is not enough. “We don’t have anybody coming in like the churches used to come in and sing, couple of times a week and we’d have people who’d come in and played piano and everybody would sit around listening to music. But now we don’t have nothing like that. We played games, but now we can’t do nothing like that, so it’s almost like they have forgotten about you even though I know they haven’t,” said Roth.

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