The coronavirus continues to ravage BC and the province’s seniors population has suffered the most.

During the pandemic, several outbreaks have occurred at long-term care homes resulting in a number of deaths.

In an interview with Vista Radio, BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie states COVID-19 is just as serious as pneumonia.

“This virus, not unlike pneumonia is extremely serious within our frail population that lives in nursing homes and it is a perfect incubator for spreading a virus because of not just the close proximity of people living together but also the type of care they are receiving.”

“It is a virus that is attacking older people much more viciously than younger people although younger people are not immune to severe cases. Certainly, the older you are the greater the probability that it will be very serious for you.”

Mackenzie believes the government needs to address a number of concerns in our long-term care homes province-wide after this crisis is over.

“I think we are going to have a look at some of the systemic issues that existed before COVID in our long-term care homes that I think around the staffing and how staffing is managed will bear greater scrutiny and I think will lead to longer-term improvements in our care homes.”

The rules around physical distancing can also provide an extra layer of difficulty for seniors as a lot of them feel isolated already living in a care home experiencing limited contact with friends and family.

“Seniors are more likely to live alone than the rest of us and if I’m 85, I’m much more likely to be alone and you’re going to start to feel the effect of that as this progresses, we are now coming off the first month of isolation and it looks like we are going to be under a few more weeks with this so I am concerned about the isolation and loneliness that many seniors are experiencing with this.”

“The degree of vulnerability that seniors are going to be feeling in this COVID outbreak is that number one, this is targeting seniors more than younger people and it’s going to reinforce that seniors are more vulnerable to these types of things and that’s going to be an added burden for a lot of our seniors out there,” added Mackenzie.

Mental health remains a hot topic of conversation during the pandemic

We asked Mackenzie if there is a generation gap between BC seniors and the younger population when speaking up about this issue.

“The older population is as susceptible to mental health issues as the younger population and perhaps even more so, but one of the differences is that the symptoms of depression can also mimic cognitive impairment and dementia. Part of the concern is someone in their 80’s is in a depression but we default to this must be the aging process or this must be dementia and when you look at some of the things about being withdrawn or forgetful and fatigued those are both symptoms of dementia and depression. If it was happening to someone who was 30 years old we wouldn’t automatically think it was someone with dementia.”

With the rash of coronavirus outbreaks at long-term care homes, is it possible that we might see more seniors being cared for by direct family members instead of going to these types of facilities?

Mackenzie thinks this might happen in the short term but those needing around the clock care will need to be in a home.

“We need to recognize that most of our people in our long-term care homes, in our nursing homes in British Columbia are there because they have significant health issues that are difficult to manage at home. We do know there are some folks in our nursing home, however, who if the supports were available in the community perhaps could be cared for in the community and so this might, when we are on the other side of this COVID pandemic might have us reexamine what kinds of supports we are able to offer in the community,”

“But, I think there are still always going to be cases where the health circumstances where the degree of physical and cognitive impairment requires that the person receive 24-hour care, which is very difficult to provide in-home for somebody, it’s expensive and exhausting.”