BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie believes the pandemic is having a greater impact on families than originally thought.

Mackenzie is of the opinion most of it centres around the fear of their loved one contracting the virus as well as the separation imposed on them for over a year.

“When we are being asked to stay at home as much as possible, if you are over the age of 65 you are far more likely to live alone. There is going to be no one else in your home but if you are under 65 and sheltering at home there are going to be other people around you.”

“The vast majority of seniors don’t live in long-term care and never will. I think it is important to look at some of the community supports that are needed and the government has over the past year made some investments in those community supports. They increased the senior’s supplement, they in fact doubled it and made that a permanent fixture. ”

With that in mind, Mackenzie believes the province is missing a robust system that will allow seniors living at home to receive supports like getting bathed, medication management, and physical mobility assistance.

She added the current system in BC isn’t adequate.

“We don’t do a very good job of meeting the need that is out there for a couple of reasons. Number one we charge for it in BC and we charge quite a lot for it and also the delivery system fragments the care a little bit more.”

To ensure better health care for those living in long-term care homes and assisted-living facilities, the provincial government is recruiting, training, and hiring up to 3,000 new health care workers.

Mackenzie stated while the investment won’t be felt right away, the benefits of the announcement will come down the road.

“I think we will see the investments the province has made will bear fruit in the day-to-day living in long-term care because we will have more staff who have trained appropriately and the people living in long-term care will have a better life.”

When asked how seniors in the north can have better access to services, Mackenzie mentioned the reality is some specialized services will require travel.

“How do we support people in that travelling whether it’s with assistance with our travelling program so that people are not paying out of pocket and we don’t decline to access services because of the cost of accessing them. The other approach is to look at bringing specialized services to these communities.”

“I also think one solution that would be particularly beneficial would be the client-direct funding where a person could receive an amount of money to hire the people themselves to provide the supports that they need versus our current model. When you look at more rural parts of the provinces and even urban-rural places like Prince George we are clearly going to need to look at those solutions. It’s going to have to be different there than the Lower Mainland.”

In addition, the impacts of the illicit drug crisis on our older population continue to be a point of focus. According to the latest data from the Coroners Service, the province’s 50 and over demographic accounts for 39% of all illicit drug deaths this year.

Mackenzie outlined that the numbers back up a disturbing trend.

“People who turn to drugs are getting older. We are seeing that reflect some extent in the overdose data and we have seen an increase in overdoses overall during the pandemic year.”

“We see a lot of work that we still need to do around the education of prescribing to older adults and we certainly see the need to address the whole spectrum.”

Nearly 20% of all adults in BC are in the 65+ age group.

BC Seniors Week runs until Saturday.