Despite the notorious and stale stereotype about seniors dreading and resisting change, Calgary seniors are resounding proof that, in so many ways, they not only embrace change much more than they are given credit for. With determination and necessity (or a bit of both) today’s seniors are dealing with pre- and post-pandemic challenges and the fact-of-life realities of getting older.
Unfortunately, in addition to the broadsides of physical and mental health, seniors must also deal with the limiting and negative social stigma of ageism. According to a survey done by Leger Marketing for a major Canadian senior residence developer, on the radar of social prejudices like racism and sexism, ageism has become the most tolerated form of social discrimination in Canada. The stats track the caution that, by 2050, one in four Canadians will be a senior.
“Sadly, we are an ageist society and tend to consider older people collectively as having less worth than younger people,” admits Dr. David Hogan, a specialist in geriatric medicine and professor of Medicine at UCalgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. “Seniors are often referred to as if they are a separate group and we tend to plan for their care, rather than plan with them.”
It is also widely acknowledged that contemporary seniors are much different than a generation ago. “The wants and needs of seniors have actually been changing over a long time,” notes the experienced and personable Carla Amthor, owner and president of Calgary’s Focus on Caring, specializing in the many aspects of senior home care.
“They are typically more active, in every sense of the word. They are involved in social events, in their community, with their grandchildren’s activities, even if it’s by social media.”
Medical and community professionals are unanimous. In addition to the vital aspect of health, seniors are more independent than ever before and opting for aging-in-place lifestyle scenarios that allow independence and still provide the required health and safety support options in order to remain in control of their lives. Amthor emphasizes that there is a vast need for home care in today’s society. “Seniors deserve to retain their independence and autonomy, to be treated in a dignified manner at all times and be safe and secure in their homes.
She explains the Calgary-based and unique Focus on Caring concept, specializes in various home care services for Calgary seniors, with the emphasis on enabling seniors to continue living in the comfort of their own home. “Personal care services are client specific to take over or assist in the activities that seniors need to be able to stay at home safely and with dignity.”
“There is a struggle understanding ageism and the desire to age-in-place. So much is lacking in the understanding of a seniors needs and when factoring in what the senior would want,” she adds. “We have an innate trust for the medical profession. When a senior is in need of support, the stock response is that you should look at facility care. I understand that this is an obvious option but it is often presented as if it is the only option.
“Just as the emotional aspects of aging are often missed, so is respecting the desires of the senior. Statistics indicate that an estimated 90 per cent of seniors prefer home care over institutional care and that people remain happier and healthier in their own homes or wherever they choose to live.
“After all,” Amthor says, “a lifetime of achievements, memories and personal belongings of importance are in a person’s home. To be uprooted and placed in a senior care facility often entails separation from most of the important things and can have devastating effects on a person’s physical and mental well-being.”
While she recognizes the value of senior residences and assisted living facilities, she acknowledges that since seniors are living longer today, it often comes with degrees of physical and mental decline. Home care services may include personal care, medication management, transfers, meal preparation and light housekeeping, although she points out that the needs of today’s seniors are invariably individual and the aging-in-place support required can be minimal or as comprehensive as 24-hour care. “Care needs of every individual are entirely different. There is no one size fits all. It’s why Focus on Caring offers customization as an important aspect of what we do and how we do it.
“Beyond the care needs, we learn about our clients, from them, their families, their stories. With the knowledge, we match personalities along with level of care support required. We ensure a transition to having someone in the home is easy and comfortable. We introduce change in as easy a manner possible so things don’t feel pressed upon the individual. And we listen! This is often the key to creating the best private care result.”
Healthcare and hospitalization studies show that an estimated one out of every 11 emergency department visits by seniors is for a chronic condition that could potentially be managed in the community. Of the seniors in the studies, nearly half were hospitalized.
Stress (when a person is not able to handle things effectively) has been shown to alter the immune response and can influence the onset and progression of physical illness. Carla Amthor explains, “Access to health services is necessary not only in emergency situations but as a means of preserving good health. Seniors often require care from different providers across various settings, including a family doctor’s office, a specialty clinic, a home care service, a pharmacy, a hospital and/or a long-term care facility.”
She underscores that the teamwork of ensuring continuity of care between all providers not only leads to a more efficient use of resources, it can potentially lead to better care and in turn a better quality of life for seniors. Support and care in the community includes key aspects such as living arrangements, transportation, caregivers, family support and the often-insidious dilemma of relieving social isolation and loneliness.
While isolation and loneliness have plagued seniors in residences as well as the more recent ageing-in-place lifestyles, UCalgary’s Dr. Hogan notes that the past pandemic year have been extra difficult for seniors. “Although many older people have and do experience social isolation and loneliness, the recent steps that had to be taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 – social distancing, restricted or outright banned family visits – just aggravated the already bad situation.
“It was not an issue limited to older people but it more pronounced and common in the lives and routines of seniors. Of course, communication technology helped address the issue but it could never replace in-person contact.”
Hogan is a booster of home care, mentioning the ageing-in-place preference of many seniors and the often-impersonal option of some large facilities. “As a community, we have under-invested in community-based care and we also need to reform how it is offered, so it is more flexible, easier to access and navigate based on the unique needs and wishes of the older person.
“We have to strive to keep people at home if that’s their wish and stop building large, continuing care facilities,” he says. “When we do need facility-based care, it should be offered in smaller, more intimate home-like facilities.”
As some geriatric professional point out: “With any luck, one day we will all be seniors.”