Loneliness and the pandemic: the system is failing our elders

 

Written by: Puninda Thind, Global Shaper – Toronto Hub

As COVID-19 cases surge across the country, once again, seniors in long-term care facilities are at risk. Those in long-term care homes have been at the forefront of the pandemic and more likely to die than the rest of the population. Thanks to the tireless work of a freelance journalist, Nora Loreto, who tracked the impact and tallied the numbers, we know that approximately 80% of COVID-19 deaths across the country can be traced to senior homes.

It’s deeply disheartening to see the system fail the most vulnerable in our society. Prioritizing the physical and mental well-being of our elders is a responsibility that we must honour. Yet, time and time again we are confronted with evidence that public money is not going towards protecting the elderly but towards corporate welfare. For instance, it was recently revealed that private long-term care facilities, Extendicare and Sienna Senior Living, received $157 million in COVID-19 relief from the government while also paying out $74 million to shareholders .  

This holiday season looks different for all of us as we spend this time without extended families or friends in order to ensure we are keeping each other safe. For seniors, the mental health impacts of loneliness  are especially challenging during this time. Several years ago, I used to volunteer at Maple Grove Care Community, a long-term care facility in Brampton, ON. Interacting with, and hearing stories from the residents was the most enlightening part of that experience for me! I have a vivid memory of  an elderly woman who, upon realizing I could understand and speak Punjabi, was incredibly delighted, and proceeded to share with me a fascinating tale about her youth which had a remarkable impact on her worldview. The sense of isolation seniors like her feel during this time is top of mind for me. 

Letters Against Isolation is a wonderful effort started by two sisters that allows volunteers to sign up and send letters to seniors living in long-term care homes across selected countries, including Canada. They serve over 6000 seniors and have sent over 50,000 letters!

As we move into the holidays and New Year, I encourage us to think about how we can collectively and safely show up to reduce the burden on the elderly.

Puninda Thind is a sustainability professional, climate justice organizer and World Economic Forum Global Shaper.

 

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